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The case for not worrying about robots

Photo: Stefano Montesi / Getty Images

Only months ago, we were warned of the robot apocalypse — runaway automation that will vaporize swaths of today's jobs, too quickly and profoundly for the economy to create replacements. More recently, we hear an industrywide defense of the robots — the argument that, as has always happened since the early days of the industrial revolution, jobs we never imagined will overcome automation, employing everyone who wants to work. The trouble with both camps is one of forecasting everywhere:

We hear an abundance of assertion; and since professionals are paid to make these forecasts, we also hear a lot of certitude. What has been in short supply is fact. So we just don't know what the future holds.

The case for robots: We sat down this week with senior company executives from Deloitte, which sits in the "don't worry" camp. Eamonn Kelly, a Deloitte futurist, gave the best case we have yet heard for that scenario.

Kelly's argument

When technological disruption has happened, it has done the following three things:

  • Displaced people
  • Augmented what people can do; and
  • Created a new art of the possible, including new work

For two centuries, catastrophe has been routinely forecast from new technology, but "it's never happened because No. 3 is massively bigger than No. 1," Kelly said.