The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane has expressed concern about job cuts due to future automation after a Bank of England study found that robots could replace 15 million British workers in the “third machine age”.
In terms of numbers, that’s almost half of the UK’s 30.8 million strong workforce.
The study found that occupations which faced the highest risk are administrative, clerical and production jobs, with caring, leisure, service, sales and skilled trades industries also estimated to face an “average probability of automation” of almost 80 percent.
“If these visions were to be realised, however futuristic this sounds, the labour market patterns of the past three centuries would shift to warp speed,” said Andy Haldane. “Technology appears to be resulting in faster, wider and deeper degrees of hollowing-out than in the past.”
The study expressed concern that this could lead to wide scale unemployment and a widening of the wage gap, which Haldane cautioned could lead to economic collapse, however the fear that new technology will replace jobs has been held for centuries and evidence shows otherwise. Haldane offered some reassurance, saying that at least to date, the reality has been that lives of workers have been enhanced and “advancements have actually boosted wages.”
“Technology has enriched labour, not immiserated it,” he said, agreeing that the projections may be “too pessimistic.” He added: “The lessons of history are that rising real incomes have ridden to the rescue, boosting the demand for new goods from new industries requiring new workers.”
The likelihood is that workers affected by automation will merely learn new skills created as a result of the new age. BrightHR’s ‘A Future That Works’ report cited that while many human-decision-making roles could be replace by automation, the advances will create new roles, such as Robot Counsellors, Avatar Managers and Mind Reading Specialists.
Haldane explained that whilst artificial intelligence is good at solving big data problems, the human brain is better at processing and problem-solving. Jobs requiring high-level reasoning are therefore likely to remain staffed by human beings – and certainly, there are some roles that are always likely to be undertaken by a human being. Nobody is going to want to cry on a robot’s shoulder or trust their beauty routine to a machine. Haldane added:
“No one anytime soon is, I think, going to choose a robot to cut their hair. “Nor are they likely to choose a robot to look after their young children or elderly parents.”
It seems that at least for now, many jobs are safe.