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What Will Humans do When Robots Steal Our Jobs?

A robot moves ore samples around in the assay lab at Newmont Mining's Carlin gold mine operation near Elko, Nevada May 21, 2014. Ore samples are tested and graded through every step of the mining process.

There appears to be a disconnect in the data with aggregate productivity growth apparently slowing down, while firms seem to tell a different story. Is there a measurement issue, especially as technology evolves, so that productivity gains are not, or inaccurately, captured? It also seems that while recent technological innovations have created much wealth, the gains accrue to relatively few people, and not that many jobs have been created, at least not yet. The data also show a ‘decoupling’ between rising productivity and stagnant employment since the early 2000s.

Experts will discuss the impacts of IT and labor market disruptions from Europe and North America in an upcoming Conference Board webcast on June 19th (10:00 AM EST). The webcast will build on the discussions from a recent cross-sector interdisciplinary round table organized by The Conference Board in collaboration with the European Commission (DG Enterprise and Industry and DG Connect) and the Cornell University ILR School. Economists, business professionals, journalists and government officials from North America and Europe will discuss the past, present and future impact of technology on labor markets, how to ease the transition from a human-based service economy to technology-based service economy, and how the U.S. and European experiences compare.

The conversation will also cover comparative disruptions that accompanied past industrial revolutions, what can and cannot be learned from existing statistics, which jobs and skills could be most valuable in the future, employers’ perceptions of the skills gap, and the relative abilities and responsibilities that employers, governments and individuals have to respond to the changing market-value of specific skills.

Round table participants agreed the impacts will be profound and adjustment to this wave of technological change will be painful to workers, there was no agreement on the net long run impacts, and whether ultimately more jobs will be lost than created. The current disruption is unique because the rapid pace, breadth, and depth of technological innovations. Also, medium skilled jobs previously unaffected now seem at stake. One study has estimated that as much as 47 percent of US jobs could potentially be exposed to computerization. So what will humans do as robots become ever more performing? Experts argued that humans should focus on developing the creative and communication skills that robots cannot mimic. Developing these complimentary skills will maximize the benefits of technology.

Tune in to the webcast on the 19th of June, or catch it on-demand, to find out more.

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