Almost half of all jobs could be automated by computers within two decades according to a recent study by the Oxford Martin Programme, University of Oxford. The study suggests two waves of computerization, with the first substituting computers for people in logistics, transportation, administrative and office support and the second affecting jobs depending on how well engineers crack computing problems associated with human perception, creative and social intelligence.
The study also points to the following:
- A substantial share of employment in service occupations where most US job growth has occurred over the past decades are highly susceptible to computerisation. This is backed up by the recent growth reported in the market for service robots and the gradually diminishment of the comparative advantage of human labour in tasks involving mobility and dexterity.
- Jobs requiring perception and manipulation, creative and social intelligence were identified as those least likely to be computerized. For instance, jobs that involve consulting other people, negotiating agreements, resolving problems and co-ordinating activities require a great deal of social intelligence, which computers are unlikely to take over.
- Computers will take over many cognitive tasks thanks to the availability of big data as well as substitute people in low-wage and low-risk jobs in the near future.
Interestingly, Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, writes in his most recent book, ‘Average is Over’, that rich economies seem to be bifurcating into a small group of workers with skills highly complementary with machine intelligence, for whom he has high hopes, and the rest, for whom not so much.
No Government is Prepared to Tackle the new Reality
Economist’s 2014 analysis of the impact of technology argues that while innovation has always resulted in job losses, usually economies have ultimately been able to develop new roles for those workers to compensate, such as in the industrial revolution of the 19 century or the food production revolution of the 20th century.
But the pace of change this time is likely to be unprecedented according to the analysis. This will bring about a huge amount of uncertainty for both developed and under-developed economies about where the next ‘lost generation’ is going to find work.
On the whole, viewpoints on the impact and future of technological innovation on the job markets remain divided. However, governments have a responsibility to equip the ’lost generation’ with the necessary skills they need to find work in tomorrow’s complex, computerised job market.