Will Robots Exterminate Our Jobs?

The robots are coming

The robots are coming and they will be taking many of our jobs by 2030 according to recent studies. So whose job is most at risk, and will the advantages outweigh the advantages?

One report by accountancy firm PwC predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics could affect around a third of UK jobs over the next 13 years, with some occupations more under threat than others, and jobs in transport, manufacturing and retail most at risk.

But PwC also predict that some jobs could change rather than go altogether and, with the use of AI and robotics bringing more wealth to the economy, additional jobs would be created.

The study estimated that by 2030 in the UK 30% of current jobs are potentially at a high risk of automation, while in the US it is 38%, in Germany 35% and in Japan 21%.

PwC chief economist, John Hawksworth, said that more manual, routine jobs which can be programmed were most at risk, whereas jobs with more of a human touch, like those in health and education, would be safer.

Recent strikes on the railways were not unrelated to a move towards driverless trains, and in the future lorry drivers might find themselves job sharing with self-driving lorries, added Hawksworth.

"Ultimately, people are going to have to be more adaptable," he said.

The PwC study called for government to provide lower-skill workers with more training over the next two decades.  Artificial intelligence would ultimately improve productivity, the study concluded, and consequently boost the economy.

Giving more repetitive tasks to robots could free people up to do more valuable work.

According to PwC occupations most likely to be affected by automation include:

56% in transportation and storage
46% in manufacturing
44% in wholesale and retail trade
37% in administrative and support services
32% in financial and insurance
26% in professional, scientific and technical
24% in construction
22% in arts and entertainment
19% in agriculture, forestry and fishing
17% in human health and social
9% Education

But it is not just the most routine jobs that could be taken over by robots and AI according to the Reform think tank, who believe that around 250,000 public sector workers’ jobs could be automated over the coming 15 years.

Their report said websites and AI chat could, by 2030, replace 130,000 Whitehall administrators, saving £2.6 billion every year.

In addition 90,000 NHS administrators and 24,000 GPs’ receptionists could be automated, saving more than £1.7 billion.

Even nurses’ and doctors’ roles could be affected, with some 30% of nursing tasks, including information gathering and giving non-intravenous medication, open to automation.

Doctors are already being outperformed by computers in diagnosing lung cancer, and robots have outperformed surgeons in performing routine procedures.

The Reform report believes public services workers could in future be employed in flexible jobs, via online platforms, providing an alternative to using agency workers for hospitals and schools.

The report’s co-author, Alexander Hitchcock, said that technology advances might be controversial and job loss must be handled sensitively.

"But the result would be public services that are better, safer, smarter and more affordable."

Patricia McLoughlin