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We need robots to take our jobs, according to John Markoff

The former New York Times technology reporter says, “The world is aging, and nobody gets it.”

An attendee reaches out to an Abilix Everest 5 educational robot at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The $699 programmable robot will be available in March and features facial recognition technology and can walk, dance, do yoga, Tai Chi and Kung Fu.  Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Former New York Times technology reporter John Markoff used to think robots taking jobs was cause for alarm. Then, he found out that the working-age population in China, Japan, Korea and the U.S. was declining.

“We need the robots for two reasons: On the one side, there are not enough workers,” Markoff said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “The demographic trends are more important than the technological trends, and they happen more quickly.”

“On the other side, there’s this thing called the dependency ratio, the ratio between caregivers and people who need care,” he added. “For the first time last year, there were more people in the world who are over 65 than under five. First time ever in history. By the middle of the century, the number of people over 80 will double. By the end of the century, it’ll be up sevenfold, globally.”

As a result, Markoff noted that he doesn’t ask roboticists when he’ll be able to ride in a self-driving car — instead, he asks when we’ll get a robot “that can safely give an aging human a shower.”

Although he retired from the Times in late 2016, Markoff plans to continue to contribute and is working on a biography of “The Whole Earth Catalog” publisher Stewart Brand. Reflecting on his nearly three decades covering tech, he said the job allowed him to track major tech trends at a distance from the companies making them happen.

“The visionaries are always wrong,” Markoff said. “That’s the best thing about being a reporter: You don’t have to be a visionary, you just have to take notes about what they’re claiming and remember when they’re wrong.”

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