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Study: Half of All US Jobs Could Be at Risk of Computerisation

Mark Hoffman
First Posted: Sep 27, 2013 03:18 PM EDT

Nearly half of U.S. jobs could be susceptible to computerisation over the next two decades, a study from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology suggests.

The study, a collaboration between Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey (Oxford Martin School) and Dr. Michael A. Osborne (Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford), found that jobs in transportation, logistics, and office/administrative support are at “high risk” of automation.

More surprisingly, occupations within the service industry are also highly susceptible, despite recent job growth in this sector.

“We identified several key bottlenecks currently preventing occupations being automated,” says Osborne. “As big data helps to overcome these obstacles, a great number of jobs will be put at risk.”

The study examined more than 700 detailed occupation types, noting the types of tasks workers perform and the skills required. By weighting these factors, as well as the engineering obstacles currently preventing computerization, the researchers assessed the degree to which these occupations may be automated in the coming decades.

Incidentally, telemarketers are the occupation with the highest probability of computerisation, according to the ranked list of 702 occupations in the appendix of the free to download report.

Generally, the model of the researchers predicts a shift from the computerisation of middle-income jobs to computers mainly substituting for low-income, low-skill workers over the next decades, with robots becoming ever more flexible and cheaper to utilize. All the hard and dirty labor will soon be shouldered by our mechanized companions -- while empathy requiring and creative jobs will rise in relative value. “For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills,” the researchers suggest.

They say that their paper is "motivated by John Maynard Keynes's frequently cited prediction of widespread technological unemployment 'due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.'" Indeed, over the past decades, computers have substituted for a number of jobs, including the functions of bookkeepers, cashiers and telephone operators.

“Our findings imply that as technology races ahead, low-skilled workers will move to tasks that are not susceptible to computerisation, i.e., tasks that require creative and social intelligence,” they said.

Frey further notes that the findings are not limited to the U.S. but apply to all developed countries: “While our analysis was based on detailed datasets relating to U.S. occupations, the implications are likely to extend to employment in the UK and other developed countries.”

The working paper is available here. -- Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology

Reference:

Carl Benedikt Frey, Michael A. Osborne, The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?, September 17, 2013

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