3.8 Million Aussies Fear Their Job Being Stolen By A Robot

Image: iStock

Within five years, do you think your job will be made redundant by a robot? If you answered yes, you are in the 16 per cent of Aussies that fear your role will be stolen by our robot overlords.

But what is the risk, really?

Thesurvey conducted by AirTasker and research firm Pureprofile also found that 71 per cent of the population believe the rise of the machines will replace more jobs than they create.

This is at odds with Australian Bureau of Statistics Data ABS from 2006 to 2016, which shows job growth coinciding with technology advancements. This is backed up by the fact that around 10 per cent of Australians are now actively taking part in the "sharing economy" (services like Uber and Airtasker)- a number that has doubled in the last year.

"There seems to be some fear in Australia around machines replacing jobs, and this is the first study which quantifies it," Airtasker CEO Tim Fung said.

"There's no doubt that digital disruption is displacing some jobs, but Airtasker's experience is that technology is absolutely creating new industries and jobs that we haven't seen before."

Fung says there's some work to be done to increase awareness of the new job opportunities and industries being created through technology platforms, including the sharing economy, and that we should also be doing more to measure the new types of jobs being created as technology fundamentally changes the way we work.

Other interesting faces revealed by the study include:

  • Around 40 per cent of Australians see human interaction to be the main factor that will prevent more roles from being automated
  • Flexibility and pay remain the most important aspects of a job for all Australian workers. For three years, "flexibility of work" has beat out "predictability of work" as the most appealing aspect of modern work.
  • Those aged between 25 and 34 are the most concerned that their job will be made obsolete by automation within the next five years. However the same age group is also the most hopeful that machines will create new industries and more jobs than they replace.
  • Of all industries, those working in education are the most optimistic that machines will create more jobs than they replace.
  • In the three years of the study, more Australians than ever before (87.8 per cent) are looking for more opportunities to earn extra income in 2017. This figure is up 7.9 per cent from 2016's Future of Work study.
  • Up to 85 per cent of those surveyed working in hospitality or construction say they will leverage the sharing economy to earn extra income in 2017.

But the robots. Are they a real threat? In developing countries, for sure.

A report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development shows the increased use of robots threatens millions of jobs in developing countries. It undermines the advantage of low wages and facilitates the "reshoring" of industries back to industrialised countries.

The solution? Build your own robots, the report says.

"The increased use of robots in developed countries risks eroding the traditional labor-cost advantage of developing countries," the policy brief says.

The report advises developing countries to tax robots and to prevent the rising inequality - caused by loss of low-skilled jobs - through social transfers. Much of the debate on the economic impacts of robots remains speculative, it says.

"Disruptive technologies always bring a mix of benefits and risks," the report says, noting that by embracing the digital revolution, developing countries could use robots to open up new opportunities.

In another little fact fact contained in the report, each year since 2013 China has bought more industrial robots than any other country. By the end of 2016, it is likely to overtake Japan as the world's biggest operator of industrial robots.



    well if the robots are going to read Gizmodo articles, then that's my job gone.

      Someone pays you to read our articles?

        The big question is how much does Smiggle Jiggle?

        I don't think there is a hope in hell that robotics will create more jobs than they replace. Fast food outlets are investing in robotics. Goodbye teens jobs. Next up, self stocking shelves, I bet they're already working on it.

        Last edited 13/02/17 12:11 pm

          Self stocking shelves already exist and are in use. They're just not common yet.

            Hi, Jacrench!

            I have never heard of 'self-stocking' shelves. Can you show me what they look like, please? Thank you.

          Those jobs are already taken up by bored baby boomers/bored housewives wanting some extra money.

          Most fast food/supermarkets in my area hardly ever have teen workers.

          The facts suggest otherwise but let's not worry about that, your speculation is far more likely to be accurate than those pesky, stupid facts.

          The jobs will still be there they will just change. And they will still need to be serviced, stocked and cleaned. Bins will still need to be emptied and floors mopped.. In most cases it would be more efficient and cost effective to have human employees.. So I wouldn't worry too much.
          I look forward to to having a fully autonomous, artificially intelligent humanoid companion or several for that matter in my home especially as my wife and I get older. I would even consider hiring them out as a workforce to do jobs that people don't want to do.. now I'm an entrepreneur... Change is scary but rarely as bad as we think it will be. In most cases it is quite the opposite.

            They already have robots that vacuum and mop.

            Self drivings cars/trucks to transport. Robotics to pack and stock.

            Sure there will still be the need for some human touch for a while yet. Though at least half could easily go. My job can be replaced by a simple bit of software to be honest, but people like to speak to people, especially in health.

        Well work pays me to work, but I tend to get distracted on Gizmodo.

        Now that's a job worthy of a robot!!

    This is at odds with Australian Bureau of Statistics Data ABS from 2006 to 2016, which shows job growth coinciding with technology advancements.

    I looked at that page and it shows the exact opposite. The chart shows that unemployment was around 4.5% in 2006 and just under 6% by the end, meaning less jobs overall, not job growth. You can't just look at the absolute number (i.e. 1000s), you need to look at the relative number (i.e. %).

    around 10 per cent of Australians are now actively taking part in the "sharing economy"

    You also have to look at how Uber and other sharing economy businesses are actively (i.e. already have driverless cars in testing on the streets) trying to move towards automation to remove those jobs.

    Last edited 13/02/17 12:43 pm

      Of course you have to look at the overall number. If their were only 10 million people working in 2006 and there are 16 million working now (made up numbers, I have no idea what the real figures are), then the number of jobs has grown significantly, even if the number of unemployed is a greater percentage than it was. Only the actual numbers can tell you the complete story.

    The great thing is, as a medical researcher I can be out of a job too, if people aren't working, and can lead healthier lifestyles because of it. Can't wait.

    Decades ago when the production manager at Ford proudly demonstrated their new robots to the union delegate, the manger proclaimed "It never goes on strike" to which the reply was "and it never buys your cars".

    Hollow out the middle class and who will be left to make the rich richer?

      I guess that's where the universal basic income (as paid by government) idea would come in.

      I think they are trailing this in Finland?

      Not sure how sound it is, but it does stack up with less jobs available etc.

      It's bittersweet isn't? Us humans are our own worse enemies.

      We want things to become easier, safer, more efficient, etc... so automation helped with that.

      Granted, generations ago, centuries even, jobs have come and gone, people learn't new skills/trades and life went on.

      But the problems that're current now are;

      - jobs are being replaced by machines
      - the human population keeps increasing
      - anyone that's dependent on such positions being automated

      Back to unions; their constant demands for higher pay, less work, etc... and

      again, us humans - people making falsified or over-exaggerated injury/compo claims, people doing stupid things around the workforce, etc...

      It's no surprise - and quite sad - companies want to reduce the human element.

      Last edited 13/02/17 2:00 pm

        Why blame unions for our current woes - blame the short-sighted policies of our government. Without the constant effort unions we'd all be working in atrocious conditions i.e. bonded labour with no rights whatsoever.

        Yes, I know that some unions may have abused their power.

        Ok, let's look at the US. 40 years ago the minimum wage was $6 - 7 per hour. In today's money that equates to about $24 per hour yet the US today is struggling to raise it $15 per hour! At the same time the membership and power of unions has dropped dramatically. Perhaps with stronger unions those on the minimum wage could today be earning enough to live on?

          Why blame unions? Because unions are every bit as responsible as anyone else. Unions have outlived their usefulness by many decades. We're not living in feudal England, companies understand the benefits to business of a happy, well paid workforce. Sure, there are stil some who don't get it but the workforce is far better informed today than it has ever been so there is no reason for anyone to put up with "atrocious conditions" or poor pay. The union movement is an anachronism that is well past it's use-by date and needs to be put out to pasture.

          As for you US example, I suppose it never occurs to you that if the minimum wage was $24, most of those on it woudln't have a job at all? Because that's the reality - wages are relative to revenue and if your cafe, for example, is only making x dollars a week, you can only spend x/2 on wages. If you have to pay your waitresses $24 an hour, you might only be able to afford to employ three but if you only have to pay them $15 an hour, you can employ five. So what is better for society, three waitresses on $24 an hour or five on $15? The union would say the former but there would be at least two families who would vehemently disagree, as would the cafe's customers.

          Last edited 13/02/17 3:54 pm

            The problem is most business would end up hiring 3 at $15 and pocketing the difference.

            Let's be honest, all the money is in the top 100 companies, the rest of the businesses are doing it fairly tough.

            We are heading towards a giant conglomerate that controls everything.

            Anyway wages can't beat robotics on cost. Certainly not in the future.

        The union that negotiated our EBA got me $800 per 10 hour nightshift (mon-fri) and $1000 for an 8 hour nightshift on Saturday, plus an 8 day break every 5th week where I still get $800 paid into my bank account for relaxing (see: Drinking, sleeping and travelling).

      It is a question of economic equilibrium or balance. If future capitalists had access to very cheap, autonomous, powerful, highly adept and intelligent robots. They then decided to sack as many people as possible to save themselves the stress and cost of having a human workforce. This would seem to a greedy capitalist's nirvana!

      Let's assume that these same capitalists lived at a time when all of their robots can be used as freely as they liked, with no government regulation to hamper any initiatives using modern robotics and whatever may be their industrial application. That they are at a point in time where these very powerful, versatile, autonomous and highly intelligent robots, are repaired and maintained by other robots, not humans, and all of this activity leads to massive unemployment.

      How will these capitalists remain profitable if the nation-states they inhabit have massive unemployment? Nearly everyone is on some sort of unemployment benefit or government pension. Who could possibly afford the goods and services that these businesses make when virtually the whole of the country is on a government benefit of one sort or another?

      What will probably happen in future is all democratic governments will have to do two things.

      1. Regulate all businesses with robotic technologies.

      2. Introduce a permanent government support payment that will be far more generous than their contemporary iterations. Intellectuals and governments around the world have been discussing the future effects of robotic technology, unemployment levels and giving all citizens a livable wage known as a Universal Basic Income or UBI.

      Let Professor Reich explain it for everyone.


    This just shows how out of touch people's perceptions are with reality. All the evidence points to advancing technology creating more jobs than it replaces, yet natural paranoia takes over in the minds of individuals. e.g. If a robot replaces a worker, that robot will require maintenance and, most likely, software updates. So the company who buys the robot might lose a worker but the company supplying the robot will be employing several people to support it. That robot will also have to have been manufactured, meaning it supports even more jobs. The trick for any government is to make sure all those jobs are being done locally.

      If a robot replaces a worker, that robot will require maintenance

      That's true, however the ability/talent needs to exist and this recoupes a small percentage of the jobs lost.

      The trick for any government is to make sure all those jobs are being done locally.

      Something that's failed here or in other countries where such resources are cheaper abroad, nullifying or limiting those opportunities.

      Lets look at the logistics industry; lets say there's around 300,000 or so drive trucks in the US.
      When automation takes away their jobs, no only does it have a direct affect on them, but the underpinning industries such as hospitality - especially in remote locations - that services them suddenly have less clientele.

      So the net affect:

      - Out of the 300K truckies, a small percentage might be reskilled to fix automated trucks, however

      - Why wouldn't existing mechanics become competitive and just fill this void?

      - What happens to those who don't have the ability or capacity to transistion into other industries?

      - What'll happen to those whose primary source of income derives from those truckies, more lay-offs?

      The domino affect not only hits the drivers, but their families and supporting industries and their families - the issue multiplies even further.

      It's quite frightening.

      Last edited 13/02/17 5:10 pm

      What happens if the robot is capable of repairing other robots?

      Woodside is currently testing a robot to do the job of operators in gas plants. The operators are encouraging it due to some the areas being high risk etc.

      I really cannot understand the push to generate robots that mimic the function of humans and the push for AI. I only see this going one way and its not going to be good for us.

      What if robots in future have extremely diverse abilities, are very powerful, highly intelligent, act autonomously, and most importantly are much cheaper to own and maintain than any human workforce?

      What if robots can design and implement robotic software code, can design and manufacture any other type of robotic technology using 3D printing, and in your above scenario, are able to completely maintain and repair other robots whenever they may require this?

      Robots will be used in a plethora of future applications, such as robotic factory labourers, robocops, military robots, teachers who encourage student based learning, builders, etc.

    First, it's migrants taking Aussie jobs and now you're all blaming robots!

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