FutureWork podcast: will robots take my job?

An expert in robotic technologies believes that robots will enhance the way human beings work in future – and not displace tens of millions of jobs.

Professor Helen Hastie, of Heriot-Watt University, tells the Scotsman’s Future of Work podcast series: “Robotics and autonomous systems are a tool to help humans be more efficient and effective. So the net impact on jobs and quality of work and life will be a positive one.”

Rob Huggins, a technology recruitment specialist, argues that the future of work is “humans developing superpowers through the use of machines” – in the third podcast in the series, developed in partnership with Skills Development Scotland.

A World Economic Forum report said robots, automation and artificial intelligence could supplant about 85 million jobs globally by 2025 – but that the future, tech-driven economy will create 97 million new jobs.

Paul Winstanley, Chief Executive of CENSIS, an innovation centre focused on sensors, imaging and the Internet of Things, says: “Humans are still way better at identifying a person than a machine is. Where we can use automation is to sift data and get to a point where we need a human to make a decision, because machines are generally poorer at making those nuanced decisions. The future is a hybrid between the two – human and machine.”

Claire Gillespie, Digital Technologies lead for Skills Development Scotland, says: “The future is human, and while I absolutely believe that technology is part of it, humans create the technology and control how far that goes. We need to keep humans very much at the centre of this.”

Professor Hastie the big opportunity is getting humans and robots to work together in more complex ways.

She explains: ‘There are lots of challenges around getting robots and humans to really work together as a team in the workplace. They will need to have a common task, and be able talk about that task in a common language, and to collaborate.

“How can we possibly get a robot to understand the human, with all the different dialects and ways of interacting and then combining that with the social cues? That’s really exciting.”
 

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