Even though advances in robotics will cause profound changes in the world of work, the Asian Development Bank actually says it has a relatively optimistic view of what will happen to jobs during the new industrial revolution.
In contrast to many commentators who look at Asia’s reliance on labour-intensive manufacturing and exports for its economic growth and see gloom as robots take a bigger share of the production process, in it’s Asian Development Outlook 2018, the bank pointed to three positive factors that could ease the minds of anyone worrying about being replaced by a robot.
Even if certain tasks can well be automated, it is rare for the entire task to be handed over to robots. There will always be key parts of the manufacturing or service cycle that will always be done by humans, just as there are still bank clerks and tellers even though ATMs do many of the routine banking tasks.
Robots are expensive, so it only really makes sense to invest in automation in capital-intensive industries – areas which already have lower shares of the workforce. Even as some jobs disappear through automation, make jobs will be created as societies get wealthier. The jobs may be different, but they will exist to cater to increased demand.
Finally, whole new industries and job categories will emerge as the new revolution takes hold. Whether it be in information and computing technology or in health care and services, there will be an increasing need for skilled, human workers to do tasks that machines will never be able to.
Of course, to realize this positive vision, nations must take action. A social safety net has to help those who are inevitably displaced. New training has to be provided; new laws, regulations and tax regimes have to grow up to deal with the new reality.
It won’t be enough for societies to wash their hands after nine years of education; a new paradigm of lifelong learning combined with sensitive and supportive social programs can help the labour force adjust and contend with the inevitable changes and new breakthroughs in automation that robotics will bring.