The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?

The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?

Over the past decades, computers have substituted for a number of jobs, including the functions of bookkeepers, cashiers and telephone operators. More recently, the poor performance of labour markets across advanced economies has intensified the debate among economists about technological unemployment. While there is ongoing disagreement about the driving forces behind the persistently high unemployment rates, a number of scholars have pointed at computer-controlled equipment as a possible explanation for recent jobless growth.

Dawing upon recent advances in Machine Learning (ML) and Mobile Robotics (MR), the authors have developed a methodology to categorise occupations according to their susceptibility to computerisation.

This methodology is used to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, and examine expected impacts of future computerisation on US labour market outcomes.

The results distinguish between high, medium and low risk occupations, depending on their probability of computerisation. According to the estimates, around 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category. These are referred to as to these as jobs at risk – i.e. jobs the authors expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.

The model predicts that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk.

More surprisingly, it is suggested that a substantial share of employment in service occupations where most US job growth has occurred over the past decades are highly susceptible to computerisation.

The authors conclude that their results predict a truncation in the current trend towards labour market polarisation, with computerisation being principally confined to low-skill and low-wage occupations. Findings  imply that as technology races a head, 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.

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