David Coyne: Why we should welcome the rise of the robots

David Coyne: Why we should welcome the rise of the robots

Scotland on Sunday
Author: David Coyne


Robots” could decimate jobs as smarter, faster machines render humans redundant in the workplace.

Automation is not a new phenomenon, nor is leaping to conclusions without full consideration of the facts. What is new, however, is the pace of change that has already heralded the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, and that will utterly change the face of work.

It’s an often quoted soundbite that two out of three children starting primary school will have jobs that don’t exist today. The recent Cities Outlook report stated 230,000 jobs could be put at risk by 2030 from automation, and Scottish cities would face greater challenges than those in the south-east of the UK in the future. 



However, it also said much more than that. It pointed out that automation creates huge opportunities for positive change in our economy.It highlighted the example of the workforce of 1911, and used census data to show the number of people employed in laundries, and in domestic service, two areas virtually eliminated by the development of machines. It went on to say: “Generally, those jobs that are made up of routine tasks are at a greater risk of decline, whereas those occupations requiring interpersonal and cognitive skills are well placed to grow”.

So, is the rise of the robots a disaster in the making? It need not be if we understand the processes which are driving the continuing evolution of our economy.

The first thing to say is that the types of jobs likely to be displaced – sales assistants, retail cashiers, admin assistants and the others – are known to be the kind of jobs of which we have too many today. They pay low wages and offer little opportunity for those who work in them. It makes no more sense to bemoan the loss of retail jobs now than it would to have mourned the loss of domestic servants in 1911.

Concern that Scottish cities will face greater challenges than those in the South-East is hardly a new reason to press the panic button. Scotland’s devolved powers and responsibilities are still relatively new and need time to gain momentum.


View article (on The Scotsman website)


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