Robot takeover
Will we work for robots or will robots work for us? VCG/Getty

One in four people would rather work for a robot than their current boss. At least this is what reed.co.uk consumers had to say when we surveyed over 2,000 of them. At the same time, many people fear that robots will 'steal' their jobs. This leads us to question: will we work for robots? Or will robots work for us?

Robots and automation are topics that have dominated popular imagination recently. Last week it was the humanoid robot Sophia making the headlines.

A month after she made history by becoming the first robot to be granted citizenship of a country - she's a citizen of Saudi Arabia - Sophia announced that she would like to start a family.

While Sophia is still some way from grabbing a top spot in the boardroom, these advances in machine learning are much more than just a technological novelty.

It doesn't seem so far-fetched that in the near future robots like Sophia will be doing some jobs just as well as, if not better than, their human counterparts. The robots are coming. And the question that many people are asking is: are they coming for my job?

Recently there has been a lot of speculation about the risks robots and artificial intelligence pose to jobs. Back in November 2015, Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, predicted that 15 million jobs in the the UK (that's around half of them) are under threat from automation.

Last month, this was upgraded when The McKinsey Global Institute announced that over 300 million jobs were at risk worldwide. So in the face of these developments, the growing anxiety about automation is certainly understandable.

But how worried are we really?

Well, 61% of consumers think that computers, automation or robots will take the jobs of humans in the near future, with factory workers, receptionists and telemarketers cited as some of the people most at risk.

On the other hand, many professions requiring empathy, interaction with people and creative thinking, such as doctors, chefs and social workers, are deemed to be amongst the jobs that are best protected from the threat of technology.

One everyday example of automation that all of us are familiar with is the self-scan checkout in the supermarket.

But it seems not everyone prefers to deal with a machine instead of a human: recent research carried by colleagues found that the majority of consumers (57%) would rather use a staffed check out than an automated one, with young people especially choosing to deal with a cashier rather than a machine (72% of 18 to 24 year-olds).

It's not all doom and gloom – jobs lost to automation won't necessarily translate into unemployment. A huge number of new and as yet unimaginable jobs will become available as a result of this new wave of technology.

Self checkout
One everyday example of automation that all of us are familiar with is the self-scan checkout in the supermarket. Reuters

In many cases machine learning and robotics will allow us to "take the robot out of the human", freeing up time and resource for people to focus on the tasks that require a more 'human' touch. This is a very exciting time both for businesses and for individuals: exciting because there is great potential for advancement, but also because we are entering a great unknown where dangers potentially lurk.

I am more hopeful than fearful. Throughout history, advances in technology have resulted in wider benefits to the jobs market and to the economy as a whole.

The emergence of the Internet is a recent example of this: it has changed the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we consume. So whether it's machine learning, artificial intelligence or robotics, business leaders will continue to embrace technological change and the benefits it can bring.

A huge part of being successful in the recruitment business is about effectively connecting people. New technology is certainly helping us to do this more efficiently.

In our sector I am sure that the future will belong to the super-connected. We are preparing for it now by experimenting with new technology, by working across borders and by developing our global expertise.

The future is always uncertain, but it is also ripe with opportunity. I encourage everyone to adopt a global mindset. This means making connections, being open, and building a big network and a diverse client base. There will certainly be jobs in the future, but the jobs of the future will be different to those we know now.

Most importantly, I don't want to be left behind. Nor do you. In order to embrace change, it's vital to invest in developing skills and keeping your knowledge up-to-date. Then the possibilities are boundless.

And for the record, I'd be happy to work for a robot myself, provided it made good decisions, was a clear communicator and was honest and trustworthy in its dealings with other machines - and, of course, humans. That's what I'd call a good boss!


James Reed is the Chairman of REED, the UK's biggest recruitment brand and the largest family-owned recruitment company in the world. He is a regular media commentator on work and labour market issues, with recent appearances including BBC Breakfast, Channel 4's Sunday Brunch, Radio 5 Live and The Apprentice.