Are robots stealing jobs? A BYU sociologist finds some answers

What do you think of when you hear the word “robot?” Do you think of inventions that will spur greater innovation and technological change, or of nearly-human machines that will use their combination of humanity and superiority to take over the world? Sociology professor Eric Dahlin understands that there are conflicting viewpoints on robots and the impact that they have on society today and in the future.

In his study on the effect of industrial robots on the job market in the US, Dahlin found that robots do not steal jobs from humans. Instead, using information about robots and jobs from 327 metropolitan cities in 2010 and 2015, he found that “a strong, positive relationship exists between robots and employment.” He discovered that an increase in these robots actually correlates with not only an increase in high-skill occupations, but an increase in middle-skill occupations that involve routine and manual tasks, which are the positions that people fear will become obsolete by the use of robotics. In reality, robots work alongside humans in these types of jobs, which actually increases the need for middle-skill laborers. Dahlin said his findings show “there is no statistical information that shows robotics have impacted middle-and low skill jobs.” While it is possible that low-skill jobs involving routine tasks could become the work of a robot, overall, the data shows that robots are not decreasing the need for humans in these positions.   

So if robots are not stealing jobs, what will be the relationship between robots and human jobs in the future? Dahlin explains: “My research does not indicate that robots and humans can work collaboratively in the future. My findings described what happened in the years 2010 and 2015, so anything could happen…However, a hopeful interpretation of my findings is that as robotic technology continues to improve…robots and humans could work in new, collaborative ways together in the future.”

To find out more about Eric Dahlin’s study on the impact of industrial robots on the US job market, read his article published in SAGE Journals, “Are Robots Stealing Our Jobs?”

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