Business consultancy Sykes wondered whether the hype about the changing future of work was really worrying Americans or not. Their conclusion? Not.
Asked what they thought about robots — and given a choice between paraphrases for “Tools that can help me” and “Things that will take my job” — two thirds thought of robots as assistants rather than competition.
More than half reported that they had never lost a job to automation and didn’t worry about it happening to them in the future.
Sykes asked workers whether they had ever been helped by a machine that took over boring, repetitive tasks. Those who answered in the affirmative were most likely to live in the West and to be Millennials. These were also the groups that were least likely to worry about losing their jobs to robots.
Are they asking the right people?
Asked what kinds of repetitive jobs they’d like to see done by robots — whether they had any experience like this or not — respondents listed things like answering phone calls, filling out forms, and scheduling meetings.
Industrial robots don’t usually do these things. It’s sort of like laundry and mowing lawns — people would like robots to take over, but they aren’t very good at those tasks yet. In fact, people who actually work with industrial robots don’t think of answering the phone or folding clothes as a useful thing robots could do. We’re more interested in seeing them assemble and package things.
Indeed, it turns out that fewer than 2% of the respondents worked in manufacturing or warehousing.
It’s not personal
Even though most of the respondents didn’t worry about losing their jobs to automation, didn’t know anyone who had done so, and were maybe fantasizing about getting a robot secretary, one third wanted to hear candidates in the upcoming presidential election talking about the issue. 19% didn’t want to hear about automation and the workforce from the candidates, and the rest — about half — didn’t care.
Just over half felt that it is the U.S. government’s responsibility to figure out a solution for workers who lose their jobs to automation.
Except when it is
The question that found the highest level of agreement was this: Would you rather work for a human boss or a software program?
Even without imagining a humanoid robot, just about 87% of workers said they wanted a human supervisor.
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