Third of Irish workers fear job replacement by robots

Science Foundation Ireland finds high levels of fear in workplace about disruption by AI

Prof Brian Fitzgerald, director of Lero, the SFI Irish Software Research Centre: “People . . . have observed how artificial intelligence and machines have replaced bank staff and supermarket checkout operators.” Photograph: Sean Curtin

Prof Brian Fitzgerald, director of Lero, the SFI Irish Software Research Centre: “People . . . have observed how artificial intelligence and machines have replaced bank staff and supermarket checkout operators.” Photograph: Sean Curtin

 

More than one-third of Irish adults fear their jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence or robots, with 11 per cent expecting it to happen in the next six to 10 years.

The findings were reported in a survey carried out earlier this summer for Lero, the SFI Irish software research centre. The concerns were higher among those aged 18 to 34, with almost half of those surveyed expecting to be replaced by automation.

The survey was carried out by Red C with a nationally representative panel of 1,038 adults online. Of those who were concerned for their jobs, a quarter expected it to happen between six and 10 years from now, and one in three thought it would happen within 15 years.

“This is not an unfounded fear,” said Prof Brian Fitzgerald, director of Lero. “People are not stupid and have observed how artificial intelligence and machines have replaced bank staff and supermarket checkout operators.”

But it’s not all bad news for workers. A recent survey by KPMG found business leaders believe technology will create more jobs, with 96 per cent of chief executives here expecting more jobs to be created than destroyed as new technology is ushered in.

Skills and retraining

“However, the big challenge for Irish education is to prepare our young people to develop the skills and retrain existing workers for jobs of the future,” said Prof Fitzgerald. “This is particularly challenging as in many cases we don’t know today what these jobs will be.”

One area that has been considered in danger from automation is driving, with self-driving cars being discussed as a realistic prospect in the coming years. However, the survey found opinions on self-driving vehicles are divided, with 37 per cent believing they will be safer, but 39 per cent expressing the opposite view.

Meanwhile, 73 per cent of those surveyed said they were worried about software failures, with only 12 per cent not concerned. Although people were generally aware there was software in devices such as traffic lights and air travel, only just over half believed there was software in everyday devices such as washing machines, and only 54 per cent said there was software in pacemakers.

“People are generally aware that today we are dependent on software for almost every area of our lives,” said Prof Fitzgerald. “As a result, the survey finds that nearly three-quarters of people are worried about software systems failures.”