Paul van Gerven
Opinion

How AI and automation affect our society is up to us

Reading time: 4 minutes

The robots aren’t stealing our jobs yet, but when they do, it’s because we let them.

“It’s not obvious at all that we’ll return to the low unemployment we had before the crisis. Due to the rapid rise of robots and other technology, the future could look drastically different from the present,” Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher warned at a conference in 2014. “Robots are fast, never sick and work 24 hours a day. They never ask for a raise, aren’t represented by unions and don’t go on strike. They’re therefore able to replace human employees in a significant part of jobs.”

Seven years later, Asscher’s warning seems a bit silly. If the robots were stealing our jobs, you’d expect them to be harder to come by. The opposite is true: unemployment is at a historical low and many companies are facing a labor shortage. And if automation was wreaking havoc on our labor markets, workforce productivity would be on the rise. Instead, after decades of steady increases, it has hardly changed since Asscher’s speech.

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