An Oxford study that assessed the risks that the introduction of automation in work sectors currently managed by people might have on employment found that 47% of jobs in the U.S. could be replaced by computers/robots. Most of these jobs are low-wage and routine-based, however the study stresses that once with the advent of more robust computing systems capable of distinguishing patterns, arguably humans’ greatest leverage in front of computer today, might swing away jobs that are more complex in nature. Examples given are diagnosis machines or legal research computing algorithms.
“While computerization has been historically confined to routine tasks involving explicit rule-based activities, algorithms for big data are now rapidly entering domains reliant upon pattern recognition and can readily substitute for labor in a wide range of non-routine cognitive tasks,” write study authors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.
It’s important to stress that the authors do not claim half of all U.S. jobs currently in occupation will be taken over by bots, but that there’s the risk these may be replaced. Evaluating how the work force will look like decades from now is an extremely complex task with high margins +/- of predictions.
Some might argue that this isn’t the first time the working class has to adapt to accommodate employment paradigm shifts. The industrial age is a worthy example. Millions of jobs were displaced then in a myriad of fields by factories. The introduction of fast-paced and efficient assembly lines at the turn of the last century produced a new displacement. Massive globalization starting a few decades ago also caused millions of jobs in developed countries to be lost at the hand of outsourced cheap-labor in developing countries, mostly from Asia.
The workforce has been forced to adapt, although periods of transition have always been followed by turmoil. The real question is will this transition period be this time more difficult than the previous ones? As more and more jobs become automated, it may be the case that people could have a tougher time at re-purposing their skill set. In an article for the New York Times, Economists David Autor and David Dorn argue that most of the jobs that will be displaced in the near future by computers are those currently classed as entry-level. Displaced workers will thus have do move down the ladder and settle for lower paying jobs – jobs that are cheaper to be handled by humans than computers. This will lead to an even further deepening of the gap between the lower class and upper class – basically bashing the middle class. These possibly foreseeable consequences need to be thoroughly assessed by policymakers.
Story via Singularity HubClick here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 ZME Science
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!