AI: Pew Report Shows Concerns From Blade Runner Are a Reality

October 25, 2017

12:20 pm

In the world of fiction, some of the best stories from the past are the most well received because they dance the fine line of imagination and reality. Take for example something as simple as the Jetson movie, a cartoon that predicted video chatting, roombas, and tablets. In Back to the Future they had wearables (virtual reality), Total Recall had self-driving cars, Short Circuit was literally about AI powered military robots, and even the original Blade Runner was digital billboards.

Flash forward to this year, and Blade Runner is once again depicting a Sci-Fi driven future where robots are doing jobs humans can’t or won’t do and it eventually leads to a revolution and fear. Fact or fiction, a new Pew research study shows that in today’s reality, Americans are already concerned with the role artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation are playing in our daily lives. Without spoiling either of the two movies, let’s just say enslaving robots to do humanities dirty work while giving them artificial intelligence probably wasn’t a good move for anyone.

The study, which involved a survey of more than 4100 Americans of varying age groups and backgrounds, also covered general sentiment towards automation in the hiring processes and the potential for robots caring for the elderly.

Automation at Work

We may not have flying cars and sex bots roaming the street just yet, but many of the fear-based concerns from Blade Runner are solidified in reality based on Pew’s report. According to their findings, not only do respondents primarily want things like a universal or guaranteed income, but they also want limits on how many robots a company can use to replace human jobs. On top of this, surveyed respondents are also very favorable (85 percent) to “limiting machines to performing primarily those jobs that are dangerous or unhealthy for humans.” In response to such an action where robots could potentially take on even more human tasks and roles, 60 percent of respondents felt a guaranteed income would be necessary.

Robots Taking Your Jobs

There is no doubt that American’s are already concerned about robots and automation taking their jobs. Just this past June McDonald’s announced that they would be replacing cashiers with self-serve kiosks in their 2,500 restaurants, citing it as the experience of the future. According to the company this won’t be a replacement of people so much as a shift in roles; however, that remains to be seen.

“Our CEO, Steve Easterbrook, has said on many occasions that self-order kiosks in McDonald’s restaurants are not a labor replacement. They provide an opportunity to transition back-of-the-house positions to more customer service roles such as concierges and table service where they are able to truly engage with guests and enhance the dining experience,” stated a McDonald’s spokesperson.

This begs the question, how concerned is the American workforce that robots, automation, and AI will either take or reduce their jobs?

“The survey also finds that Americans are being impacted by technology in more tangible ways when it comes to their career prospects. Specifically, 2 percent of Americans report that they have at some point personally lost a job because their employers replaced their positions with a machine or computer program, and another 5 percent have ever had their pay or hours reduced for the same reason,” stated the Pew report.

It goes on to indicate that nearly one in five Americans said that they personally know someone that has lost a job or had it diminished as a result of an automated solution.

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While numbers are still currently low, this is surely set to change as technology and software advances. However, the majority of workers have found current advances in these spaces are improving their current roles.

“A substantial share of workers indicate that technologies such as word processing or spreadsheet software (70%), smartphones (67%), and email or social media (60%) have had a positive impact on their own careers. Around one-quarter (27%) feel that industrial robots have impacted them positively in one way or another in their jobs or careers.”

Read more about emerging artificial intelligence companies at TechCo


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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@) or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.