15 million UK jobs could be lost to robots in the future according to Andrew Haldane, the chief economist at the Bank of England.
Speaking to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on Thursday, he said that the developed world may be on the on the cusp of a fourth Industrial Revolution or Second Machine Age that will see human roles increasingly replaced with automated machines.
“Its defining feature would be that new-age machines will be thinking as well as doing, sensing as well as sifting, adapting as well as enacting,” he said.
“They will thus span a much wider part of the skill distribution than ever previously. As robots extend their skill-reach, ‘hollowing-out’ may thus be set to become ever-faster, ever-wider and ever-deeper.”
However, Haldane admitted that he was not sure whether the replacement of labour by robots would lead to a utopian or a dystopian future.
Oxford professors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne have tried to quantify how the replacement of human labour with robots will affect specific professions by assigning probabilities to certain classes of job being automated over the course of the next few decades.
Haldane said the research showed that accountants were on the brink of ‘vocational extinction’ with a potential 95 per cent of roles becoming automated. For a hairdresser however, this figure drops to just 33 per cent.
“On these numbers, the accountant’s sun has truly set, but the relentless upwards ascent of the hairdresser is set to continue. For economists, like me, the magic number is 15 per cent.”
For the UK, approximately a third of the jobs by employment fall into each category, with those occupations most at risk including administrative, clerical and production tasks.
“Taking the probabilities of automation, and multiplying them by the numbers employed, gives a broad-brush estimate of the number of jobs potentially automatable,” said Haldane.
“For the UK, that would suggest up to 15 million jobs could be at risk of automation. In the US, the corresponding figure would be 80 million jobs.”
Scientists recently made strides in developing more human-like robots with new research that gives robots more naturalistic movement and conversational abilities.