Countries Record Varying Levels of Fear Over Automation, Study Finds

With the advent of artificial intelligence technology,anxiety worldwide has been growing in recent years over if, how and when robots will replace human labor and shape major industries. Although automation is often treated as both a global opportunity and a challenge, new research shows that not every country is equally afraid of the new technology.

An opinion poll recently released by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center shows that while the majority of people in the 10 countries surveyed worry about job automation, their anxieties vary greatly, with their fears about technology’s impact on the future tied in large part to how their country’s economy is performing today.

Additionally, the vast majority of people surveyed in Greece, Japan, Canada, Argentina, Poland, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Hungary and the U.S. believe automation will worsen inequality in their country, and that people who are replaced by robots will have a difficult time finding jobs.

“There is a widely shared view that the nature of work will likely be transformed over the next half-century, though not everyone is equally convinced,” according to the report’s authors

The greatest level of pessimism was found in Greece, where more than half of respondents said AI will definitely affect the job market, while in South Africa 45 percent of people said the same. The results come as no surprise, say the authors of the study, since both economies have suffered in recent years.

“Greece has experienced horrible unemployment problems and so has South Africa,” says Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at Pew. “It’s conceivable that part of their rationale is that this is just one more thing that’s going to keep them from being employed.”

Around 9 in 10 people in Japan shared similar sentiments that AI will take over human jobs, while in Canada 84 percent of respondents said automation has a good chance of changing work. Roughly 80 percent of survey respondents in Argentina, Poland and Brazil said robots and computers will eventually take over jobs performed by people.

By contrast, in Hungary only 18 percent of those interviewed said computers and robots will definitely take over many human jobs, while in the U.S. 15 percent of those surveyed shared the same views. Additionally, 50 percent of Americans surveyed said automation taking over jobs is a possibility, while 48 percent of Hungarians think this may happen. Earlier this year , the European Commission raised its economic growth projections for Hungary, while wages in the U.S. is currently experiencing a protracted period of growth.

[ MORE: These countries are viewed as having up-and-coming economies.]

More than 60 percent of respondents in all 10 countries said inequality will worsen as a result of job automation, with the highest levels of pessimism recorded in Greece, Argentina and Brazil. Additionally, at least 3 out of 4 survey respondents in all countries said people will have a difficult time finding employment.

The Pew report also showed that there isn’t a consensus on who should respond to the challenges brought by automation — whether the government should be responsible for retraining people or if individuals themselves should be responsible for learning new skills. Around 70 percent of respondents in the U.S. said every person is responsible for learning a new job, while in Argentina, Brazil, Poland and Italy, a similar percentage said the government should get involved in this process.

“What we saw (in this survey) is what we knew about different publics,” Stokes says. “In other surveys we’ve done, the American public is the most individualistic so Americans are most likely to say it’s the individual’s responsibility to retrain, whereas Europeans are more likely to say it’s the government’s role. This is a reflection of the national personality more than anything else.”

Researchers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) estimate that machines may perform up to 14 percent of jobs in advanced economies and AI may alter more than 30 percent of the positions.

Artificial intelligence seems to be growing fast. Last year, global consulting firm McKinsey estimated that tech giants such as Google or Baidu spent up to around $30 billion on AI in 2016, and 90 percent went on research and development. On a global level, companies spent about $40 billion dollars on artificial intelligence, with sectors such as high tech, telecommunications, and financial services leading in investment.

“Analysts remain divided as to the potential of AI: some have formed a rosy consensus about AI’s potential while others remain cautious about its true economic benefit,” according to the report. “This lack of agreement is visible in the large variance of current market forecasts, which range from $644 million to $126 billion by 2025.”

At the same time, the impact on the labor market will not be the same for all professions and its range is hard to estimate, says the OECD .

“While there is uncertainty about the speed of these changes, it is clear that the types of jobs that are being created are not the same as those that are being lost,” reads a 2018 report on transformative technologies and jobs of the future. “Moreover, the workers affected by job loss in declining activities may not be those benefiting from the new job opportunities emerging in expanding areas.”

[ MORE: See the 10 countries seen as the worst for gender equality.]

The Pew findings build on years of previous studies focused on how automation will affect countries. A 2014 Pew study found nearly half of 1,900 economic experts surveyed said significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers worldwide will be displaced, “with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.”

Earlier this year, the British office of global accounting firm PwC released results of a 29-country study that found less well-educated workers are especially vulnerable to job loss due to automation. The study also found that female workers will be more affected by automation in the coming decade while males may be more at risk in the long term.

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Countries Record Varying Levels of Fear Over Automation, Study Finds originally appeared on usnews.com