Fourth Industrial Revolution

How is automation perceived by the public?

automation demographic opinion education age income work labour jobs economy finance technology artificial intelligence robotics

A variety of factors affect public opinion. Image: Unsplash/Andy Kelly

Vizhdan Boranova
Research Analyst, IMF’s European Department
Richard Varghese
economist, IMF’s European Department.
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Tired of reading articles about how a robot will take your job? We’ve all heard horror stories that foresee the devastating consequences that automation will have on people’s working lives—yet much less attention has been devoted to what workers actually think.

Our chart of the week from our recent research does exactly that. It looks at how 11,000 workers across 11 advanced and emerging market economies perceive the main forces shaping the future of work. Perhaps surprisingly, most workers actually feel more positive than negative about automation, especially in emerging markets. However, personal characteristics like age, education, and income matter significantly—as do country factors like the degree to which automation has already taken place.

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automation demographic opinion education age income work labour jobs economy finance technology
What do you think of automation? Image: IMF Staff

For example, someone with a college degree is more likely than a person with only a high school diploma to feel positive about the impact of automation on their job. The same is true for high earners. Similarly, a person who is satisfied with their job is more likely to have a favorable perception. In contrast, older age and having experienced job volatility in the past is strongly associated with more negative views by workers.

Country factors matter too. Perhaps not surprisingly, respondents from countries that witnessed an uptick in the use of robot technology between 2000 and 2016 tend to have more negative views about their impact on the workplace. Respondents from emerging markets and countries with a high degree of labor protection, however, tend to be more positive.

While workers who perceive automation positively are ready to reeducate and retrain at their own cost to face the challenges of growing automation, they expect governments to facilitate the transition through greater protection and new forms of social benefits.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Fourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging TechnologiesArtificial IntelligenceFuture of Work
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