Will Robots Take our Jobs?

How far might technological advances go in the future? Experts have explored whether our jobs could eventually be taken by robots…

Robots could do more than a third of UK jobs in the next 20 years, according to academic studies.

As part of an Artificial Intelligence series, the BBC combined detailed studies from the University of Oxford and Deloitte to look at the impact that developments in this field may have on our working lives.

The findings showed that robots could be developed to take on repetitive tasks – and that they could even be trained up to do more complex tasks such as certain types of writing.

Top on the robot risk list are telephone salesman, typist, legal secretary, finance accounts manager, weigher/grader/sorter, routine inspector, sales administrator, bookkeeper, finance offer and pensions clerk.

This list shows how it is thought that robots will be particularly good at data heavy functions. Driverless cars – a long-running ambition of Google and many in the automotive industry – are also backed to threaten the future of the taxi driver.

Yet the picture is far from certain. By combining the academic study with the data from Deloitte, the BBC was able to show that while some jobs are at risk, the demand for new workers is predicted to go up.

Deloitte said that almost three quarters of businesses will be looking to increase their head count in the next two decades despite 35% of jobs being at risk from automation. Interestingly, 84% said that employees’ skills will need to change in the next ten years, with digital know-how and creativity top of the shopping list.

Analysing the data, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones wrote: ‘That might sound a depressing picture, but the good news is that the research also indicates that advancing technology will create more jobs than it destroys. And it is worth striking a note of caution about just how clever the machines are.

‘Anyone who has watched robots' hopeless attempts at playing football, or eaten one of the recipes created by IBM's Watson computer will know that there are many areas where humans are still way out in the lead.’

By further way of example, a sports report written by a robot exemplified what is missing from the function of machines. The end result is a factual account of the action but, when compared to that written by actual reporters, completely misses the human story. When it comes to creativity, emotion, human interaction and artistic flair, humans still – it seems – have the trump card.

The Oxford academics - Michael Osborne and Carl Frey – say that humans will adapt to fulfill roles that it is impossible for robots to take.

In their study they looked at jobs based on the need for social perceptiveness, negotiation, persuasion, assisting and caring for others, originality, fine arts, finger dexterity and manual dexterity.

They concluded: ‘Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.’

While the use of robots might be on the rise it does seem that technology will still need human intuition and support – with jobs evolving to reflect that relationship in the years to come.


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