Robots are getting so sophisticated that some people fear they'll eventually replace human laborers. After all, robots have already transformed factories and other industrial work.
But while artificial intelligence (AI) researchers acknowledge that smarter robots will definitely eliminate more jobs, they say machines won't put us all out of work.
Instead, tomorrow's intelligent bots will create new, safer and more interesting jobs for people in their wake.
"Over the years we've seen tech develop further and further, and we've seen the nature of different jobs change," Carlos Guestrin, the CEO and co-founder of Dato, told Tech Insider.
"Nothing is going to be different than it was before" for the US economy, says Guestrin, whose company builds artificially intelligent systems that analyze data. "What we'll see is perhaps a shift in the kinds of things humans do."
Data from a recent AI industry report seems to back up Guestrin's views. Authored by analyst J.P. Gownder and published by Forrester, a Boston-based technology research firm, the document is based on government data and interviews with researchers and businesses, and it suggests 9.1 million US jobs will be automated by 2025. That's a lot fewer than what an oft-cited Oxford study from 2013 claims: 65 million US jobs lost by 2030.
"The future of jobs overall isn't nearly as gloomy as many prognosticators believe," analyst Gownder wrote in the report. "In reality, automation will spur the growth of many new jobs — including some entirely new job categories."
It may help to consider all of the jobs that didn't exist just 10 years ago, says Lynne Parker, the director for the Information and Intelligent Systems Division at the National Science Foundation.
"Look at the number of jobs that have been created by the intelligent software industry — it's a huge number of jobs," Parker told Tech Insider, including app developers and data miners. "Even if certain jobs might be lost to certain advances in AI, many more have been created through the whole industry."
Robots will eat up 16% of jobs by 2025, Gownder wrote in a recent blog post, but roughly "9% of today's jobs will be created." Doing the math, he wrote, that's about a 7% dip in human work over the next decade —"far [lower] than most forecasts, though still a significant job loss number."
But there's a silver lining to the loss, says Michael Taylor, a computer scientist at Washington State University: Robots will likely eliminate the dullest and most dangerous jobs, freeing up people to take on safer and more interesting gigs.
As an example, Taylor said he's working to automate Washington state's apple harvest — work that growers are struggling to find people to take on.
"AI and robotics will replace some people in some jobs but I don't see that as a bad thing," Taylor told Tech Insider. "As long as we're targeting the right jobs: jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or dull — jobs that we don't want people to have."