The robots are coming.
At least, that’s what we’re told.
In many ways though, they’re already here. How many times this week have you been told about your unexpected item in bagging area, by a machine? And that’s just the start. Amazon is about to open its first grocery stores in Chicago and San Francisco that do away with even the check-outs themselves.
Seemingly, as technology makes life simpler, the working world gets more complicated. A new RSA/Populus poll gets to the heart of what job automation really means for today’s workers as part of the launch of the RSA’s Future Work Centre, exploring the impact of new technologies on employees.
The goals? To cut through the hype and hysteria that often plagues the debate on automation in employment, and present a more accurate account of how the world of work is changing.
Technology in the workplace
Just 6% of workers think they will gain the most from the introduction of new technologies in the workplace, according to our research. A little under half (42%) say tech companies will be the biggest winners.
The RSA/Populus poll found that 34 percent of workers believe new technologies will result in large job losses, and that few of these will be replaced by new ones. A further 28 percent think mass automation is likely but that new jobs will emerge to take the place of ones lost to machines (see Figure 1).
Is technology really the enemy?
New technologies are commonly received with a mixture of confusion and disdain, as evidenced by generations of people, for centuries.
Plato – writing on a scroll – said writing was a step backward for truth. Scathing attacks on the invention of the telephone were published in The New York Times in 1877, for its invasion of privacy.
Often though, technology is the sticking board for blame; convenient distraction as other factors move into play. Technology itself is rarely the sole cause for the loss of jobs.
Our RSA/Populus survey found that workers are more likely to believe the UK’s terms of exit from the EU will lead to the greatest job losses (34%), than they are to fear the effects of technology (27%) (see Figure 2).
Exploring the winners and losers of tech in the workplace
The research supports the view that tech companies are seen as the real winners of technology in the workplace.
The RSA/ Populus survey finds that just 6% of workers say they had the most to gain from the introduction of new technologies in the workplace (see Figure 4).
By far the greatest number pointed to technology companies who might benefit from higher sales of their technology (4%), followed by employers who could benefit from better performance (3%).
Preparing for the future
Tech in the workplace is coming. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are evolving rapidly. The equation has played out in numerous sectors to date.
We already work alongside robots in a number of industries. Where farmers once carried out manual work, gigantic machines now harvest and sow crops. Where doctor’s notes were once handwritten, they are now typed up and saved to a database.
Nearly two thirds (64%) of workers in our RSA/Populus poll said tech companies are prepared to protect workers from the effects of new technologies (see Figure 5). Just 27% said central government and 21% devolved and local governments.
While it may be an unlikely occurrence for most of the workforce in the near future, our RSA/Populus poll suggests few people would have the wherewithal to bounce back if they lost their job to automation (see Figure 6).
Barely a fifth (18%) say the government would be able and willing to cover most of their living costs for a reasonable period.
The research suggests that if the robotic revolution arrives, the government is ill equipped to cope, leaving workers in limbo at best, behind, at worst.
Similarly, this is one of a number of workplace revolutions. The human touch may be what it takes to inject ongoing ingenuity and creativity to artificial intelligence and robotics.
Every wave of technological development ushers in new questions about our changing workplaces and environments. Populus’s research gets to the very heart of what this means for society, and the organisations and brands within it.
Find out more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling +44(0)20 7253 9900.
Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,072 British adults aged 18+ between 27th and 28th June 2018. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of adults in the UK. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at www.populus.co.uk
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