Robots, automation and the future of work - Activate World

Robots, automation and the future of work


There is significant debate whether technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will increase productivity in collaborative partnerships with human workers or make a large portion of today’s jobs obsolete with broad societal, economic and political consequences.

Industrial robot makers say robots don’t result in lower employment. Robot density around the world is on average about 70 robots for each 10,000 workers. More advanced countries such as Germany, South Korea and Japan have about 300 robots per 10,000 workers and these three countries have the lowest unemployment rates.

Others reference a 2013 study the University of Oxford estimating that 47 percent of current jobs of all types are at risk from automation. The McKinsey Global Institute published a report predicting a third of American workers may have to switch jobs by 2030 due to the impact of automation.

In “The Future of Work,” Brookings Institution scholar Darrell West describes a future which “older positions will be eliminated faster than new ones are created,” leaving “workers with few skills…unable to find jobs.” He warns of “social unrest” and the prospect of “dystopias that are chaotic, violent, and authoritarian in nature.”

According to a recent report from the economists Lukas Schlogl and Andy Sumner of King’s College London, “the current debate focuses too much on technological capabilities, and not enough on the economic, political, legal and social factors that will profoundly shape the way automation affects employment.”


  • The International Federation of Robotics estimates that next year the stock of industrial robots will grow by more than 250,000 units used in the production of automobiles, electronics and new machinery.
  • This disruption probably won’t result in a permanent loss of demand for workers, but rather shifts in what types of work the economy needs – similar to America’s shift from an industrial to an information economy over the last half-century.
  • Ensuring robots operate more safely alongside humans has been critical to factory deployment with workers and robots now collaborating in BMW assembly plants.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • How can governments help mitigate the risks while harnessing the opportunities of robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning?
  • What can business leaders do to shape policies that support workers impacted by major technological disruption?
  • Does the rise of robots and automation strengthen the case for publicly funded higher education by equipping workers with advanced skills required by employers?
Sources: ForbesForbesNYTimesNYTimesWSJWorld Economic Forum
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash