People in many countries fear big job losses from automation: Survey

A humanoid robot works side by side with employees in the assembly line at a factory of Glory Ltd, a manufacturer of automatic change dispensers, in Kazo, north of Tokyo, Japan. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - The public is broadly fearful that automation will lead to significant job losses, with many populations sceptical the technologies will boost economic efficiency, according to a survey of 10 countries released on Thursday (Sept 13).

The survey, by the Pew Research Centre, revealed some variation among the countries polled, with Greece, South Africa and Argentina expressing the highest degree of certainty on the displacement of human workers by technology.

But large majorities in all 10 countries agreed that automation would "definitely" or "probably" lead to significant job losses. The lowest percentage was the United States, with 65 per cent, the report said.

Large majorities in all 10 countries also agreed people would have a hard time finding work and that inequality would worsen due to automation and artificial intelligence.

One question with a big range was whether automation would make the economy more efficient. Majorities in seven countries were sceptical, with just 33 per cent of Italians taking that view.

But there were three exceptions where majorities accepted that argument: Japan (74 per cent), Poland (61 per cent) and Hungary (52 per cent).

Another area of variance was on the government's role in preparing the workforce for the future.

Argentina, Brazil and Italy were among the countries where more than 70 per cent said the public sector should assume this responsibility, a view shared by just 35 per cent in the United States.

"People are much more worried about the impact on jobs and inequality than they are that this is going to increase efficiency in the economy or create new job opportunities," said Mr Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at Pew.

"The positive argument for this whole economic trend is not resonating with at least the public we surveyed," he said. "Simply telling people, 'Don't worry. This will be good for you.' People aren't accepting it."

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