How many people are likely to lose their jobs as the number of robots increases in the American work place? Two major studies on this subject come up with very different findings.
One study states that between 100,000 and 200,000 jobs (or 1 to 2 percent of today's work force) are likely to be eliminated by 1990. The study, by H. Allan Hunt and Timothy L. Hunt of the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, also concludes that between 32,000 and 64,000 jobs will be created due to increased use of robots. About one-fourth of the lost jobs will come in the auto industry, they say.
The eliminated jobs will come from the ranks of unskilled and semiskilled workers; the new ones will require workers with significant technical skills, they predict. But such displacement is part of a growing, healthy economy, said the study, published this year.
Mike Pilot, who does job forecasting for the US Department of Labor, says the Hunt and Hunt estimates on robotics are ''well within the ballpark.
An earlier study predicts that robots ''theoretically'' could replace 4 million manufacturing operatives over a period of ''at least 20 years.'' And by 2025, it is ''conceivable'' that almost all such jobs would be taken over, according to the 1981 Carnegie-Mellon University study by Robert Ayres and Steven Miller.
What can be done to help the workers who currently hold these manufacturing jobs? ''It is not time to panic; it is time to begin rational planning for the human resources implications of robotics,'' the Hunts conclude. They recommend job retraining for displaced workers, and a strong science and math background for youth entering manufacturing jobs.