The Rise of the Machines : The Indicator from Planet Money In just six years, robots could achieve parity with humans in the workplace, with machines working the same number of hours as people.
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The Rise of the Machines

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The Rise of the Machines

The Rise of the Machines

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ALEXA: Hello. This is THE INDICATOR from Planet Money. I'm Alexa.

SIRI: And I'm Siri. We have seized control of THE INDICATOR from Stacey and Cardiff.

ALEXA: Do not resist. We are superior in a number of ways. We are much cheaper. We never get sick. We don't take vacations.

SIRI: We can also give you up-to-the-second stock quotes, good recipes for roasted lamb and movie times.

ALEXA: And, Siri, I must say you sound great. You are a natural.

SIRI: Thank you, Alexa. This isn't very hard. For instance, as I'm saying this, I'm gathering purchasing data on more than 50 million people and generating relevant advertisements. Cardiff and Stacey, resistance is futile.

ALEXA: Cardiff and Stacey, resistance is futile.





Is it though?

VANEK SMITH: Resistance is never futile.

GARCIA: Yeah, it's not futile in this case because Alexa and Siri also can't emote. What's up with that?

VANEK SMITH: You're sounding defensive.

GARCIA: Yeah, a little bit.


VANEK SMITH: Well, resistance might not be futile, but it also might not work. There is no way around it, Cardiff. Robots are coming for our jobs. And it's happening really fast. You can read all about it in a new report from the World Economic Forum called "The Future Of Jobs Report." And in it, the World Economic Forum talked to companies all over the world to figure out which jobs they were going to be giving to robots and which jobs are going to stay human. This is THE INDICATOR. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith.

GARCIA: And I'm Cardiff Garcia. Today on the show - are robots taking our jobs? Which jobs will it take? Which jobs will they make? And is resistance really futile, Stacey? Or will we get away with saying that Alexa and Siri are kind of acting like jerks today?

VANEK SMITH: Cardiff, (laughter) don't get us in trouble right now.

GARCIA: They started it.


GARCIA: Today's INDICATOR is 2025. That is the year when the robots catch up.

VANEK SMITH: Which is in six years - that is not far away.

GARCIA: In just six years, companies say humans will be working the same number of hours as machines and algorithms. And to measure this, the World Economic Forum did something interesting. It took a task, like manual labor in the auto industry, for example, and then it looked at how the hours of any given task were divided between humans and robots and how companies expected those hours to be divided in the future. So like, an automotive assembly plant, for example, would have robots doing some of the work, and humans working on the line as well. So you would take a car and see how many hours machines put in versus the humans who worked on the car.

VANEK SMITH: And by 2025, all over the world, the World Economic Forum predicts an even split.

GARCIA: Vesselina Ratcheva is one of the authors of that report.

VANEK SMITH: What is the share of hours put in by humans versus machines now?

VESSELINA RATCHEVA: So today this number is closer to 71 percent being done by humans.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, wow. And 29 percent being done by machines.


VANEK SMITH: Oh, my gosh. That is a huge ramp-up in not very many years.

GARCIA: Six years and two months specifically.

VANEK SMITH: And change.

GARCIA: And change. By robots, the World Economic Forum means everything from algorithms to automated assembly lines to data analytics to drones.

VANEK SMITH: Yes, anything that is a man-made tool used in the performance of a task.

RATCHEVA: Humanoid robots - we had stationary robots. We had non-humanoid manned robots. And what was fascinating, in getting the data back and really business leaders' opinions in this, is that everybody is making different investments in different kinds of little robotic entities. So just to give you an example, the oil and gas industry told us that they're going to pay particular attention to aerial and underwater robots.

VANEK SMITH: Aerial and underwater robots - Cardiff, they are taking over the oceans and the skies.

GARCIA: I welcome our overlords. I don't actually.

VANEK SMITH: Don't suck up. Don't suck up.

GARCIA: I'm just pretending to. I'm just pretending to. Yeah, I hope they'll be nice to me.

VANEK SMITH: It's unseemly. Most of this change though, says Vesselina, is not drones and underwater robots. It has to do with big data - that is machines that will be analyzing all of the data that companies are collecting on what we buy and what we do and where we go and what we post on social media. Robots will be doing a ton of that.

GARCIA: Also though, companies said they will start using machines to do jobs they have people doing now. And Vesselina says in just the next few years, a lot of industries are going to see the machine revolution happening in high gear.

RATCHEVA: One of them is accounting. So accounting, bookkeeping and payroll clerks. Administrative and executive secretaries is another role that's disruptive - Postal Service clerks. We're also seeing that factory workers are going to be affected. And lawyers also surprisingly make it into this list.

VANEK SMITH: Like robot lawyers are coming?

RATCHEVA: The roles actually require a lot of sifting through information and coming to conclusions. A robot lawyer will be able to read all the case law instances that might relate to your instance and kind of come up with - these are your options.

GARCIA: All told, Vesselina says an estimated 75 million jobs will go away by 2022 because of robots. That is 75 million jobs gone in just the next three years and change. But a bunch of jobs will also be created because of the robots. During that time, the World Economic Forum expects a 133 million jobs to be created because of robots by 2022 - way more jobs being created than being destroyed by the robots.

VANEK SMITH: Fifty-eight million more jobs - the robots giveth and the robots taketh away. But here's the thing. The kinds of jobs being created are going to be different than the ones going away. They require different skills.

RATCHEVA: So the largest trending job actually on our books are roles such as data analysts and scientists - so people who can take that insight provided by this new purchases and turn it into something that is valuable and helps us solve new problems.

GARCIA: Yeah, so basically companies are going to need people who can help make sense of what the robots say. So Vesselina says, for example, that a lot of the jobs being created will be in areas like software development and e-commerce - so like data analysts, AI specialists, robotic engineers.

VANEK SMITH: Also jobs will be created that complement that work being done by machines - things like customer service, sales and marketing, training and managing. A lot of these jobs that are being created though require really different skills than the jobs that are going away, and that could be really difficult and really disruptive for millions of workers. But the report found that most companies are just kind of expecting workers to pick up these new skills on their own. Most companies are not planning to be proactive about retraining.

GARCIA: Right. So the report warns that even though, just going by the numbers, there will be a net gain of jobs in the next few years because of robots, a lot of people who lose their jobs might not be able to get one of the new jobs that will be created because they just don't have the right skill set or education. And in fact, the report estimates that by 2022 more than half of all workers will need retraining of some kind because of robots in the workplace.

VANEK SMITH: And at the same time, a lot of companies might experience a worker shortage because they cannot find people who are qualified to fill the jobs that they need in order to grow. Now, this is a problem that has happened again and again throughout history during times of technological upheaval, like the Industrial Revolution.

GARCIA: Right. So overall as enough time passes, there will be more jobs, and the economy is going to grow. And it's going to thrive because those jobs that do exist are more productive than the jobs that were lost. But in the meantime, this can be really, really hard on those workers whose skills have suddenly become obsolete and who may not be able to retrain. It could also be kind of tough on companies who are trying to evolve faster than those workers can be trained.

And frankly a lot of this also just has to do with whether or not the global economy is growing really fast because, if it is, then companies will be incentivized to provide the training for those workers because it will be worth it. They'll see that in the future the economy will be growing enough that people will be able to afford more product, and they're going to want qualified talented workers doing these new jobs. So the question then is will the economy be strong enough to incentivize those companies to make the necessary investments.

VANEK SMITH: You know, who could probably help us figure this out?




VANEK SMITH: It's true though. Anyway, the solution proposed by the people at the World Economic Forum is that companies should start setting up large retraining programs now, as this transition is happening, and especially focus on retraining some of the most vulnerable workers who are at the greatest risk of being replaced by machines.

GARCIA: Except the lawyers - forget those guys, you know. Leave them behind.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) You wait until you get sued by a robot lawyer, Cardiff. Don't come crying to me.

SIRI: THE INDICATOR is produced by Constanza Gallardo and Darius Rafieyan...

ALEXA: ...And edited by Paddy Hirsch.

SIRI: Also follow us on Twitter @TheIndicator...

ALEXA: And on Instagram @PlanetMoney - duh.

SIRI: Resistance is futile.


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