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Get ready for your new co-worker – the robot

Sharon Gaudin | April 22, 2016
Author says successful workers will soon be working with intelligent systems.

Sure, robots and intelligent machines are likely to replace jobs in the not so distant future.

The situation, though, isn't as dire as some would have you believe, according to Tom Davenport, co-author of Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines. The book is due out in May.

Instead of stealing humans' jobs , artificial intelligent systems and robotics will help many people do their jobs better.

"We have a new generation of technologies and we need to work with them if we're going to be productive and effective," Davenport said in an interview. "I think that in many cases, we'll be working with these machines as colleagues... I think the people who prosper will be the ones who like working with machines."

Tom Davenport 
Tom Davenport, co-author of "Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines." Credit: Tom Davenport

There have been a lot of worried headlines and panicky warnings that robots are coming to take everyone's jobs.

The robot uprising, some predict, may end with machine overlords but could begin with robots taking over as as firefighters, mail carriers, hotel concierges, fast food cooks and taxi drivers.

Last November, the chief economist at the Bank of England warned that robots could take over 50% of jobs in both U.S. and British workforces over the next two decades. That would mean the loss of roughly 80 million American and 15 million British jobs.

A few months before that, the Boston Consulting Group predicted that by 2025, robots will go from performing 10% of manufacturing jobs, as they do now, to 25%.

Davenport, who wrote his book with journalist Julia Kirby, also has written Big Data at Work and Thinking for a Living. He said people shouldn't panic.

"We are relatively optimistic, though people shouldn't be too complacent about it," said Davenport, who is a Fellow of the MIT Center for Digital Business and an Information Technology and Management professor at Babson College. "Jobs don't get replaced by robots or cognitive technologies. Tasks do. Many knowledge worker jobs will have tasks chopped away, but we tend to do a lot of things within our jobs.... We'll see some marginal job loss - maybe in the range of 10% to 20%, but we'll see some new jobs created too."

Those job losses are expected over the next 10 years or so, according to Davenport.

"These things take a lot longer than anybody usually predicts," he said. "As container ships become mega ships, we'll need robotic help to unload them quickly. But the longshoremen's union, in the U.S. anyway, has been very hostile to that. If you're a longshoreman, it's not good to become complacent. But we're not going to see millions of people being replaced anytime soon."


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