A multifunctional humanoid robot called Hubo has been a major star of this year's World Economic Forum in Davos

Rise of robots may worsen social inequality

The accelerating development of technology accompanied by the rise of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will exacerbate social inequality around the world, a World Economic Forum survey has suggested.

In only a decade, technology that belongs to the realm of science fiction could become a reality. This may include implantable mobile phones, 3D-printed organs for transplants, internet-connected clothes and even AI machines sitting on a corporate board of directors - at least according to executives attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.

However, this unprecedented evolution of technology – also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution – will probably come with many difficulties, unless the corporate sphere is prepared.

While in the past it was mostly manufacturing jobs that suffered from the emergence of automation technology, the rise of thinking machines now threaten jobs previously considered safe – such as entry level journalism.

As a result, the wealth gap in the world will only become more pronounced, making the rich even richer and the underprivileged poorer.

"There is an economic surplus that is going to be created as a result of this fourth industrial revolution," Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, told the WEF's annual meeting in Davos on Wednesday.

"The question is how evenly it will be spread between countries, between people in different economic strata and also different parts of the economy."

There could be cheaper goods and services on one hand, but mass unemployment on the other.

"The fourth industrial revolution has potentially inverted the competitive advantage that emerging markets have had in the form of low-cost labour," said Lutfey Siddiqi, global head of emerging markets for FX, rates and credit at UBS.

"It is likely, I would think, that it will exacerbate inequality if policy measures are not taken."

Driverless cars and trucks could soon make the profession of a driver obsolete and there are already attempts to replace hospital nurses, bar tenders and shop assistants.

Yet the fast pace technological progress could also pose major challenges to some established companies that would have to fight for their positions with newcomers from the high tech sphere.

However, some have pointed out that the outlook might not be so grim. In fact, economist John Maynard Keynes already predicted problems with widespread technological unemployment in 1931.

"If history is any indicator, we'll have more jobs being created in the end than are going to be destroyed," said ManpowerGroup CEO Jonas Prising.

An earlier released study predicted there could be a net loss of 5 million jobs in 15 leading economies by 2020 due to the rise of robots and AI.

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