Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation

Source: Pew Research Center

A majority of Americans predict that within 50 years, robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans – but few workers expect their own jobs or professions to experience substantial impacts

From self-driving vehicles and semi-autonomous robots to intelligent algorithms and predictive analytic tools, machines are increasingly capable of performing a wide range of jobs that have long been human domains. A 2013 study by researchers at Oxford University posited that as many as 47% of all jobs in the United States are at risk of “computerization.” And many respondents in a recent Pew Research Center canvassing of technology experts predicted that advances in robotics and computing applications will result in a net displacement of jobs over the coming decades – with potentially profound implications for both workers and society as a whole.

Two-thirds of Americans expect that robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans within 50 years but most workers expect that their own job will exist in its current form in five decadesThe ultimate extent to which robots and algorithms intrude on the human workforce will depend on a host of factors, but many Americans expect that this shift will become reality over the next half-century. In a national survey by Pew Research Center conducted June 10-July 12, 2015, among 2,001 adults, fully65% of Americans expect that within 50 years robots and computers will “definitely” or “probably” do much of the work currently done by humans.

Yet even as many Americans expect that machines will take over a great deal of human employment, an even larger share (80%) expect that their own jobs or professions will remain largely unchanged and exist in their current forms 50 years from now. And although 11% of today’s workers are at least somewhat concerned that they might lose their jobs as a result of workforce automation, a larger number are occupied by more immediate worries – such as displacement by lower-paid human workers, broader industry trends or mismanagement by their employers.

Two-thirds of Americans think it’s likely that in 50 years robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans

Government, education and non-profit workers are slightly more skeptical about the likelihood of widespread workforce automationWhen it comes to their general predictions for the future of human employment and workforce automation, roughly two-thirds of Americans expect that within the next 50 years robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans. Some 15% of Americans expect that this level of automation will “definitely” happen, while 50% think it will “probably” happen. On the other hand, one-quarter of Americans expect that this outcome will probably not happen, and 7% believe it will definitely not happen.

In general, Americans of various demographic backgrounds have largely similar expectations regarding the future of automation. However, those under the age of 50 – as well as those with relatively high household incomes and levels of educational attainment – are a bit more skeptical than average about the likelihood of widespread workforce automation. Some 35% of 18- to 49-year-olds think it unlikely that robots and computers will do much of the work done by humans, compared with 27% of those ages 50 and older. And 37% of those with a college degree think that this outcome is unlikely (compared with 28% of those who have not attended college), as do 38% of Americans with an annual household income of $75,000 or more (compared with 27% of those with an annual household income of less than $30,000 per year).

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