Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Experts are split on whether artificial intelligence will boost—or decimate—the economy.

Here's what we can agree on: The robots are coming. They're coming to your house, to your doctor's office, to your car, and to your favorite coffee shop. By 2025, technologists believe artificial intelligence will permeate wide swaths of day-to-day life. 

And, obviously, these robots are going to take some human jobs. Machines have been displacing humans this way for centuries. What's less clear is whether the overall economic and employment picture for humans will be bleaker or brighter as a result. 

In a survey the Pew Research Center published this week, nearly 2,000 technologists, engineers, and other experts were "deeply divided" on how advances in artificial intelligence will change the economy. On one hand, giving robots some human jobs will free up humans to focus on things that only we can do. Then again, while some highly-skilled workers will thrive in this robot-filled future, many, many others are likely to be forced into lower-paying jobs at best—"or permanent unemployment at worst."

And the experts are fairly evenly split on what this will mean for society. About 48 percent of them said they believe robots will have displaced "significant" number of blue-collar and white-collar workers in the next 10 years, which will widen the income gap, exacerbate unemployment, and make life generally worse for a lot of people. But 52 percent of those surveyed predict that robots won't displace more jobs than they create by 2025. While many existing jobs will be turned over to the machines, this cohort says, "human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution."

The latter view is a common refrain in the technology sector. When machines replace humans, humans are better off, the argument goes. “Historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys," Google's Vint Cerf told Pew, "and there is no reason to think otherwise in this case. Someone has to make and service all these advanced devices.”

And yet, just because an industry survives a major transition doesn't mean the workers who are trained in the old way of doing things emerge unscathed—especially for those who don't have the skills or experience to adapt to new systems. In other words, humans may have figured out a way forward after the Industrial Revolution, but many of them suffered before society as a whole benefitted from the widespread innovation spurred by all that change. 

"There is great pain down the road for everyone as new realities are addressed," said Mike Roberts, president emeritus of ICANN. "The only question is how soon.”

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire in Paris.
    Design

    Amid Notre-Dame’s Destruction, There’s Hope for Restoration

    Flames consumed the roof and spire of the 13th-century cathedral in Paris. The good news: Gothic architecture is built to handle this kind of disaster.

  2. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  3. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  4. People eat and drink coffee inside a small coffeehouse.
    Life

    Gentrification Is Hurting Kuala Lumpur's Iconic Coffee Shops

    Traditional kopitiams, which serve sweetened coffee in no-frills surroundings, are a part of Malaysian national identity, but their survival is precarious.

  5. A women-only subway car in Mexico City, Mexico
    Equity

    What’s the Best Way to Curb NYC Subway Harassment?

    While other countries have turned to women-only cars, New York legislators are proposing to ban repeat sex offenders and increase penalties for subway grinders.