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Robots, AI may replace 30% of UK workers: report

More than 10 million workers in the UK are at high risk of losing their jobs to robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems over the next 15 years, according to a new report released today.

March 24, 2017 / 05:41 PM IST
A robot greets visitors during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RTS10T83

A robot greets visitors during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RTS10T83

More than 10 million workers in the UK are at high risk of losing their jobs to robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems over the next 15 years, according to a new report released today.

However, new AI-related technologies will also boost productivity and generate additional jobs elsewhere in the economy, the report found.

The study by accountancy firm PwC estimates that the UK has a lower proportion of existing jobs at potential high risk of automation than the US (38 percent) and Germany (35 percent), but more than Japan (21 percent).

The analysis found that the likely impact of automation varies significantly across industry sectors.

The highest proportion of jobs facing potential high risks of automation among the larger sectors include transportation and storage (56 percent), manufacturing (46 percent) and wholesale and retail trade (44 percent).

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PwC said 2.25 million jobs were at high risk in wholesale and retailing - the sector that employs most people in the UK - and 1.2 million were under threat in manufacturing, 1.1 million in administrative and support services and 950,000 in transport and storage.

Overall, more than 10 million UK workers are at high risk of being replaced by robots within 15 years as the automation of routine tasks gathers pace in a new machine age, according to 'The Guardian'.

Education and health and social work are estimated to face the lowest risks of automation given the relatively high proportion of tasks that are hard to automate.

"A key driver of our industry-level estimates is the fact that manual and routine tasks are more susceptible to automation, while social skills are relatively less automatable," said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC.

"That said, no industry is entirely immune from future advances in robotics and AI," Hawksworth said.

"Automating more manual and repetitive tasks will eliminate some existing jobs, but could also enable some workers to focus on higher value, more rewarding and creative work, removing the monotony from our day jobs," he said.

"By boosting productivity - a key UK weakness over the past decade - and so generating wealth, advances in robotics and AI should also create additional jobs in less automatable parts of the economy as this extra wealth is spent or invested," he added.

The potential impact of job automation also varies according to the characteristics of individual workers.

On average, PwC estimates that a higher proportion of male jobs (35 percent), particularly those of men with lower levels of education, are at higher potential risk of automation than female jobs (26 percent).

This reflects the fact that relatively highly automatable sectors such as transportation and storage and manufacturing tend to have high proportions of men working in them.

In contrast, female workers are more concentrated in occupations requiring higher levels of social skills - and often higher average education levels - such as health and education.

While automation related to AI and robotics should boost productivity and will not necessarily reduce total employment in the long run, it could also widen income inequality because a greater proportion of the economic pie will go to those with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in an ever more digital economy.

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