Robots are taking human jobs. How should we respond?

Parlindungan Pardede

Universitas Kristen Indonesia

Humans’ natural predisposition to keep on creating better tools to be more productive or have things done more effectively has now brought us to the 4th industrial revolution (4IR), in which various technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, and the internet of things (IoT) are merging with humans’ physical lives. The fusion of these smart technologies enables machines to autonomously interact, access and evaluate data, and make decisions. A simple example of this is the smartphone we use every day. The blend of smart technologies in it enables us not only to call or text other people but also to provide us the weather forecast or suggest to us the best route to a place we have never visited. All these are possible because the connected smart technologies in the phone can collect data, analyze them, and draws the most accurate conclusion to suggest to us the best route to our destination. In industries, the integrated smart machines autonomously execute the production activities.

One of the major consequences of the transformation brought by 4IR is the fact that robots and other smart machines are now taking over human jobs. McKinsey & Company (2017) predicted that up to 800 million jobs would be lost to automation by 2030. Frey (2012) even projected 2 billion jobs (roughly 50% of all the jobs in the world) will be taken up by robots.

How should we respond to these predictions? Worried? What future do you have in mind? Gloomy? No! Let’s take these predictions as a wakeup call which reminds us that things change very quickly. Thus we should make ourselves ready to adapt.
We can start our preparation by realizing that not all types of jobs will be taken over by robots. Ford (2010) described that the riskiest jobs to be automated include the ones that are “on some level routine, repetitive and predictable”, while the occupations involving genuine creativity, professions that involve complex relationships between humans, or jobs that are highly unpredictable (like cave diver, crocodile psychologist, skydiving instructor, professional stuntmen, storm chaser) will be safe from automation. Why don’t we prepare ourselves or our children to grab one of the jobs robots will not take over?

The next thing we should realize is that besides “robbing” some of the present jobs, robots will also create a variety of new jobs, especially those related to design and innovation in the field of online automation and technology. World Economic Forum (2016) suggested nearly two-thirds of kindergarten students today will pursue jobs that today do not exist yet. World Economic Forum (2018) added that by 2022 automation will replace 75 million jobs but will create 135 million new jobs. According to Allen (2015), the results of the study census since 1871 in England and Wales revealed that the rise of machines has essentially created more jobs than taken them.

However, to be able to pursue the works that robots will not “capture” or the future works that do not yet exist today, individuals should master the required skills, including (1) complex problem solving, (2) critical thinking, (3) creativity, (4) people management, (5) coordinating with others, (6) emotional intelligence, (7) judgment and decision making, (8) service orientation, (9) negotiation, and (10) cognitive flexibility (World Economic Forum, 2016).

In addition to these skills development, Basu (2017) suggested every individual adds new skills to be required in the future. Increasing one’s online visibility, personal brand enhancement, network development, startup adaptability augmentation, and health keeping are also important. In relation to these, the ability to use information and communication technology is a must.

To conclude, it is obvious that to create a more comfortable and affluent life, humans keep on inventing tools that can help, even replace, them to complete various jobs. Hence, technological disruption cannot be postponed or avoided. To respond well, we should prepare ourselves to adapt to all the inevitable changes The preparation could be started by realizing that the works that have been taken over by robots are the wearisome ones, which are included in routine, repetitive, and predictable works. The jobs that necessitate higher-order thinkings and creativity, and the professions involving the complex human relationships will be untouchable for the machine. In addition, we should also realize that besides taking over various jobs, automation also creates many new jobs. The question is: Are we ready to develop the competencies and skills needed by the jobs that will never be “robbed” by machines or the new jobs that will be created?

Note: This article was adapted from:


  1. So, we should be pursuing skills which machines will not be able to do? Challenging but inspiring. Thanks a lot for the idea.


    1. That’s true Galatian. We can’t delay or resist technological advancement. We cannot say “Go away!” to robots. The only thing we should do is developing skills they won’t be able to cope up with.


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