D&S Researcher Madeleine Clare Elish considers the possibility of a full-on replacement of humans by robots. She argues that this scenario is nowhere near as close as we have been led to believe. Though algorithms can do an astounding range of things that were once viewed as exclusively human work, they don’t work all by themselves.

This is a crucial but often overlooked point in the debate around algorithms and the future of work: Most human jobs will not be replaced but rather reconfigured in the near future. We absolutely need to worry about the long-term implications on the demand for human labor and how this will affect the economy. But if we only focus on the question of whether and when humans will be replaced, we miss the impact algorithms are already having on work and the opportunities to make choices, as designers and consumers, about how algorithms can disrupt or enforce existing power dynamics in the future.