Robots, which once threatened to wipe out humans’ jobs, are now desperately needed – to take them.
A global shortage of workers has led to business experts urging artificial intelligence manufacturers to speed up the creation of robot staff.
Worldwide unemployment is at 4.5% – the lowest since records began in 1980.
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Labour shortfalls are at historic highs in advanced countries including the UK.
In the US there are 11.2m vacancies for just 5.6m job hunters – the widest gap since the 1950s.
The shortage has increased due to millions who quit jobs during the pandemic failing to return.
Growth of the working population – aged 15 to 64 – has started to decline while the share of the elderly swells.
The working age population is shrinking in 40 countries including most of the economic powers.
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Ruchir Sharma, chairman of the Rockefeller International research foundation, said AI was needed to plug the gaps – and fast.
He said: "Not so long ago authors were churning out dire books on how The Rise of the Robots would lead to The Jobless Future amid authoritative forecasts that half of all US jobs would be at risk from automation starting right about now".
"Recent jobs reports, however, raise a different threat – not whether robots will replace human labour but whether they will get here fast enough to save the world economy from worker shortages.
"Fewer workers all but guarantee slower economic growth so most nations will need more robots just to keep growth alive.Techno-pessimists still sound the alarm, saying the spectre of robots stealing jobs and undercutting wages will resurface as the pandemic fades and job-quitters return to work which they may or may not.
"Either way underlying demographic trends foretell continuing shortages.’’
Elon Musk boasts Tesla's 'Optimus' robots will have full artificial intelligence
He said highly advanced AI nations such as China, Japan, Germany and South Korea were among the hardest hit by worker shortages.Robots cannot fill all the holes in the labour force,’’ he told the Financial Times.
Governments can respond to labour shortages in other ways – by paying bonuses to parents to have more children, encouraging women to enter or return to work, welcoming immigrants or raising the retirement age.But all these steps trigger human resistance, particularly in an angrily populist era.
Each robot can replace three or more factory workers, the hardest hit group.
Forecasters have been predicting since the 1950s that full-blown AI would arrive in 20 years, but it is not here yet. "They can’t arrive too soon.".
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