An Era of Mass Automation

A report from Price Waterhouse and Coopers (PWC) divides the impact of modern technology on the labour market into three distinct temporal sections.

Firstly, the Algorithmic Wave, between our current moment and the ‘early 2020s’. This will see the ‘automation of simple computational tasks’ and will mainly impact ‘data-driven sectors such as financial services’ .

Secondly in the late 2020’s we shall see an Augmentation Wave, in which there is ‘dynamic interaction with technology for clerical support and decision making’ as well as ‘robotic tasks in semi-controlled environments such as moving objects in warehouses’.

Finally PWC predicts an Autonomous Wave before the mid 2030s, in which there is ‘automation of physical labour and manual dexterity, and problem solving in dynamic real-world situations’.

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 20.17.20

The graph above details the percentage of jobs at ‘high risk of automation’ by country during each of these waves, ranging from around 22% of jobs by the late 2030’s in South Korea, to 43% in Slovakia.

Similar conclusions have drawn by the The McKinsey Global Institute, The Future of Humanity Institute, and the International Institute for Environment and Development

Although each report attempts to play down the realities of automation by referencing historical developments in technology, there is strong reason to believe that the unprecedented technology of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and, in particular, artificial intelligence, will impact the labour force on a scale never before seen in human history. 

To place the gravity of this statement in context, let us briefly consider the employment history of the UK as an example study. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s the UK’s unemployment rate is estimated to have reached almost 15% of the workforce. More recently, the Great Recession in 2008 peaked at an unemployment rate of 10%. Now, if we take the statistic cited in the predictions above, that 30% of jobs are at high risk of automation in the UK by 2030, and compare this figure to the great economic downturns in recent British history, we begin to understand that scope of the unprecedented challenge that lies ahead.  We are entering an era of mass automation.



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