Americans Think Automation Could Really Suck

Americans aren’t feeling good about automation.

According to survey data by the Pew Research Center, there’s widespread fear that automation will lead to rising inequality between rich and poor. Indeed, while 76 percent of those polled thought that such inequality would rise, only 33 percent thought an automation-driven economy will create many new, better-paying jobs for human beings.

And that’s not all: Roughly 48 percent of Americans believe that existing automation has mostly hurt workers, compared to the 22 percent who say it’s helped. Plus, there’s the general perception that, by 2050 or thereabouts, robots and computers will do much of the work currently assigned to humans—a trend that, if it comes to pass, will only escalate many Americans’ fears of automation.

“Most Americans also expressed support for policies aimed at limiting automation to certain jobs or cushioning its economic impact,” read Pew’s note accompanying its data. “A large majority (85 percent) said they would support restricting workforce automation to jobs that are dangerous or unhealthy for humans to do.”

Many Americans also think that the federal government should do something to blunt the impact of automation on everyday life. According to a similar 2017 survey conducted by Pew, “half of U.S. adults said that in the event that robots and computers are capable of doing many human jobs, it is the government’s obligation to take care of displaced workers, even if it means raising taxes substantially.”

What jobs may end up replaced first, at least in the tech industry? Ones that involve repetitive or straightforward tasks, of course, such as some kinds of coding. Jobs that involve “gut” decision-making, long-term planning, and people management are more likely to endure even in the face of widespread automation.

If anything, that’s actually good news for older tech pros, who often have exemplary “soft skills” and decades of experience working (and leading) teams. You might be able to automate any number of processes within the tech stack, but rallying tech pros and addressing human concerns is beyond the purview of robots… at least for the time being.