Humans vs. Robots: How to Thrive in an Automated Workplace

Jun 30, 2017

Are robots going to take our jobs? Will artificial intelligence make it even easier? How will automation really affect the global workforce and economy?

As these technologies have developed with increasing speed, it's not unnatural—no pun intended—to wonder about their impact on the lives of regular people (not to mention the companies they work for). Will automation free our time for leisurely pursuits? Or will we get even busier? And if we're so good at creating technology that does the work for us, will society create new support mechanisms to address that reality?

To learn more, Fortune asked six humans—three executives, a researcher, an economist, and a futurist—how automation will impact society. Here's what they said.

Amy Webb Melissa Golden — Redux 

“This is a sophisticated problem, and it demands a call to intellectual arms to not assume that it’s a binary situation. It’s not just that jobs will be lost and that robots are taking over. It’s much more sophisticated than that.” —Amy Webb, founder, Future Today Institute

Courtesy of Quip 

“How do we create a mentality of agility and continuous learning? That’s the challenge I see with a lot of this. It’s very easy when you’re 22 to make a career change. It’s much harder in the middle of your career. The cost of transitioning is very high.” —Bret Taylor, CEO, Quip, a Salesforce-owned company

Courtesy of Workday 

“We need to keep relation­ship skills. I went to an automated, self-serve restaurant the other day, and I felt so empty when I left. Contrast that with my coffee shop. We are hard-wired for relationships—you want the smile, the connection.” —Leighanne Levensaler, SVP of corporate ­strategy, Workday

Lukas Kroulik 

“Most of us don’t have the reflective time that allows us to be innovative and creative. So we’ve actually destroyed our capacity to go beyond computers. But computers are always going to be more efficient than us. For us to be ­better than technology, we have to find our inner human.”—Lynda Gratton, professor, London Business School

Fortune Brainstorm TECH 2014 Kevin Moloney — Fortune Brainstorm TECH 

“There’s a huge need to increase productivity around the world, the U.S. included, simply because of aging. Half of our economic growth has come from more people working: women in the workforce, growing population. That source is about to disappear. So we badly need to increase the economic output. One way to do that is to have the robots, the A.I., do the work. It has the potential to increase our productivity. And not only do we need robots working, but people too. So we need to make sure there’s enough work for them to do.” —Michael Chui, partner, McKinsey Global Institute

Courtesy of ServiceNow 

“There’s this assumption that it’s going to be people or robots, all or nothing. My experience is that it doesn’t operate that way. It’s automating part of the job, but not the full job. Repetitive, manual work—no one who’s doing it is really enjoying it. Technology replaces and creates. It replaces manual work and creates new opportunities—new tasks, if you will. And productivity creates growth, which creates new kinds of work. It is a virtuous cycle. It’s so easy to talk about it in binary terms. I just don’t think that’s the reality.” —John Donahoe, CEO, ServiceNow

A version of this article appears in the July 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline "Ready for the Robots?".

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