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Kids Are Scared Of A Future Where Robots Take All Their Jobs

A new survey finds young people increasingly depressed about their prospects for the future.

Photos: Antonio M. Rosario/Getty Images

With new artificially intelligent machines appearing every day, young people are worried about whether they'll have a job in the future, a new international survey finds. Across nine countries, more than one-in-four of those aged 16 to 25 believe their job will be done by computer within 10 years.

While broadly optimistic, the age group recognizes it's entering a job market at a time of upheaval and that constant retraining will be necessary. More than half of respondents in India think computers will replace their jobs, compared to about a third of those in Germany, Brazil, and South Africa, the poll finds. Many respondents think traditional education is unsuited to their future careers: 45% describe academic learning as "old fashioned."

The survey was commissioned by Infosys, the IT services giant, and the Future Foundation, a trends analysis firm. It finds that young people in developing markets are generally more positive than those in advanced countries. For example, three-quarters of French respondents say their prospects are worse than their parents (8 in 10 French women said that). But just half of young people in India feel the same way. Sixty percent in India and China say they're "optimistic" or "very optimistic" about the future compared to less than half in Australia.

It's often said today's young are more entrepreneurial than their parents, but the survey doesn't find much evidence for it. Across the nine countries, only 1-in-10 respondents want to work at a start-up and, in the U.S, it's even less: just 5% would choose the insecurity of starting a business over working at a larger, established company (for men the rate is higher still). Having said that, more than half of all respondents say they would like to start a business one day, even if it's not immediately.

The results are based on a 20-minute online survey in the U.K., U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Brazil, India, South Africa, and China. At least 1,000 respondents completed the questions in each country, aside from South Africa where only 700 did. Obviously the results are skewed in that certain types of people tend to fill in online surveys and be online in the first place.

According to the research, young people are acutely aware of the need for good technological skills and the pressure of international competition. Seventy-five percent of respondents in Australia, Germany, and India believe they'll have to compete against their international peers. At the same time, many agree that not having technological skills will come with increasing penalties in the future: two-thirds agree with this statement, particularly those in China, Brazil, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.

Several recent studies predict a flood of job losses as a result of automation. Forrester Research says 9.1 million jobs will go in the next decade. McKinsey says 45% of paid activities could be automated using "currently demonstrated technologies." And research from Oxford University says almost half of U.S. jobs are at risk of computerization in the next 20 years. Young people are probably right to be worried about their job prospects, just like the rest of us.

Related: What's The Future Of Innovation?

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