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The robots are coming! Shouldn’t Kiwis be more worried?

20 Jun 2016

Massey University has tackled the robotic elephant in the room in a study that explores the potential impacts new technologies have on society.

Dr David Brougham, from Massey University's School of Management, used an exploratory study to discover how smart technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) affect service sector employees.

His study found that 87.5% of respondents strongly disagreed that smart technologies could take their jobs. This, Dr Brougham says is in stark contrast to warnings propogated by public figures such as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking that mass unemployment will be a problem in the future.

Dr Brougham says the study's results show that few Kiwis are planning for careers beyond the next five to ten years in an area where smart technologies are likely to be more adopted.

“It was interesting that those who most strongly denied the possibility of a machine doing their job were often from the sectors most at risk, like checkout operators, drivers and analysts. These are all areas where we can already see technology having an impact,” Dr Brougham says.

Dr Brougham cites his interview notes that showed one response from a business support employee who dismissed the idea completely by saying ‘We work in the service industry, robots are irrelevant’.

Dr Brougham says this dismissive attitude shows that ignorance can be bliss, but he reminds people that often jobs are repetitive actions that could be codified and done by a robot.

Robots could even function in areas such as accounting, law and research, as "There is report writing software now available that is practically flawless,” he says.

Brougham's research showed that younger employees are more concerned about the potential impacts. This can affect organisational commitment and career satisfaction.

“The younger generation is definitely more concerned. They are both more aware of the coming changes and more likely to care about the impact of those changes because they have a longer working life ahead of them," Dr Brougham says.

Dr Brougham believes people should research the potential impacts of technology and should not expect a linear career as the future breeds uncertainty in terms of career longevity and stability.

“There is going to be a huge displacement of people in the workplace and a large number of jobs may disappear. I don’t think we are prepared for it at any level, whether we are talking about education, employment or social equity and stability," Brougham concludes.

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