Experts: Robots coming for white collar jobs

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- They're delivering pizzas in San Francisco, parking cars in L.A., and serving up lattes in crowded coffee shops. In fact, robots are becoming so skilled, some experts believe nearly half of all human jobs could be at risk in the decades ahead.

"The most important thing we should understand is that this is potentially an enormous disruption," says Bay Area futurist Martin Ford.

Ford predicted as much in his bestselling book, "Rise of the Robots."

"The key thing that makes a job vulnerable is the nature of the work. Is it something that's fundamentally routine and predictable," he says.

And over the past few years, that ax has fallen heavily on blue collar industries like manufacturing and transportation. But before you get too snug in your office chair, experts warn the next round is likely to be different. And this time, machines will be coming for the white collar jobs.

Powerful computers can now create programs that use artificial intelligence. Think stock picking robots, computerized medicine and even, automated attorneys. Stanford student Joshua Browder used a form of A.I. to create the Do Not Pay Chatbot Lawyer that can help you beat your parking ticket.

"And it has about a 54 percent success rate. The average lawyer in the UK there's a 50 percent success rate, and it's free," says Browder.

But slow down for a moment, says Stanford lecturer Dr. Paul Saffo, who agrees the trend is unnerving. "It's going to be a turbulent ride, but this is not the robot apocalypse," he says.

He says, similar fears have been around since the industrial revolution, but new technologies have almost always created new jobs to go with them. He says the real issue is timing.

"If it happens all at once, then we're going to have mass dislocations. If it happens gradually, we'll have time to adapt and change," Saffo believes.

But what if the disruption does last years? Martin ford says that prospect has economists floating an idea called UBI, for universal basic income. It's minimum cash for the rest of us, in a world where robots do the work.

"We could well get into a situation where there aren't enough jobs to go around period," Ford argues.

And he believes that prospect would pose a serious threat to the overall economy, if large segments of the population didn't have money to spend. Creating at least the prospect of a bumpy road ahead.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
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