A recent McKinsey Global Institute report predicts that the bulk of jobs in future decades will be in fields such as elderly care and construction, where demand is driven by forces such as demographics, rather than automation.
Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the consulting firm, said “There’s a real robot industry that’s growing, but if you look at the overall economy, it’s a small percentage.”
McKinsey says it does not expect automation to drive a large spike in unemployment over the long run, but researchers caution that the forecast depends on how quickly automation transforms the workforce, and how easily displaced workers find new jobs.
Governments will play a role determining that future, through investments in retraining and public policies.
We have already seen instances of public pressure leading officials to press the brakes. San Francisco, for example, recently passed rules that limit where delivery robots can operate. Human pilots are still required on commercial flights, despite autopilot capabilities.
For now, robots remain relatively rare, as Mr Rees’s experience on the streets reveals. “People get really excited,” he says. “They want to run up and take pictures.”
Since September 32-year-old Brandon Rees, who used to make food deliveries, has been working as a robot operator for Robby Technologies, a Silicon Valley start-up whose robots have been deployed by delivery firms in eight cities in California.
On normal days, Mr Rees will pick up a robot, accompany it through the streets and provide assessment of the robot’s performance and back-up in the event of any serious problems. He also provides explanations to curious passers-by. On some days, he will monitor the machines from afar from a desk with screens.
He has been called a ‘Robot Wrangler’, which many believe will become one of many new job titles that will be seen in future job ads. His job, wrangling robots, offers a glimpse of the new kinds of roles that are likely to emerge as automation transforms a wide swathe of industries, from transportation to health care.
Matthew Delaney, chief executive of the robotics company Marble, which started deliveries in San Francisco last year said, “The way we view it … the whole industry is shifting toward the paradigm that we basically have intelligent machines that do the actual physical labour. Either in conjunction with a person or where the person is remote support, in more of a manager role.”
This job role as a ‘Robot Wrangler’ is not yet an official title as the role performed by Mr. Rees is so new, but it offers a glimpse of the new kinds of roles that are likely to emerge as automation transforms a wide swathe of industries, including transportation and health care.
New job titles use terms such as monitors, handlers, technicians and operations specialists. The roles have been described by some in the media as anything from robot babysitters or robot chauffeurs. However, analysts say it is clear that these sorts of positions are growing.
Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s newly launched task force on the work of the future said, “We use that term ‘autonomous’ a lot when we think about robots, but in fact very few robots are purely autonomous.”
“There are always humans someplace, somehow, watching, programming and interacting with them, so I think that’s a model that we are going to get more comfortable with and need to get more comfortable with.”
As well as Robby Technologies and Marble other robotics companies such as the UK-headquartered Starship Technologies have advertised positions, seeking staff to transport robots from warehouses to delivery zones and oversee their activities.
According to McKinsey as many as 800 million workers, or 30% of the global workforce are widely expected to be replaced by robots by 2030,