Andrew Charlton’s essay on The Robot Race in The Monthly
Humans have a complicated emotional connection with robots. It seems every day brings with it a new story about how robots are set to take our jobs. Driverless cars. Algorithmic journalism. Robots that make hamburgers. Medical machines that read MRI scans. Even, ironically, automated career advice.
“This is one of the defining anxieties of the developed world,” write AlphaBeta co-founder Andrew Charlton and Australia’s shadow minister for finance, Jim Chalmers, in a large essay published in the latest issue of The Monthly.
“The automation age is not a zero-sum game, in which machines advance and humans retreat”
The rapidly changing nature of work is one of the key challenges of our time, say Charlton and Chalmers, urging politicians to address the very real and understandable worries people have about the future without denying them the broader benefits of technological change. “Future governments will have to deal with a world in which artificial intelligence and automation will creep into every occupation, from bricklayer to teacher. We, in turn, will need to prepare for a working life that even a few years ago was unthinkable.”
The authors see a silver lining behind the anxiety-driven debate. “The automation age is not a zero-sum game, in which machines advance and humans retreat,” they write. “Rather, machines and humans are racing alongside each other.”
Past waves of technological progress have always been accompanied by fears of mass unemployment. Yet these fears haven’t come to pass, Charlton and Chalmers observe. “It seems the gloomy soothsayers didn’t overestimate the capability of machines; they underestimated human capacity to change existing jobs and create new ones.”