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Good News: Robots Will Steal Only 9 Percent of Jobs, Not 38 Percent Says New Study

Whether automation produces net job losses depends on the relative sizes of its job-creation and job-destruction effects.

RobotReasonreasonResearchers with the Centre for European Economic Research, relying on job-level rather than occupation level data, estimate the number of jobs at risk to automation could be as low as nine percent.

Researchers at Oxford University surveying 702 occupations reported in 2013 that nearly half of all jobs in the United States are at risk of being automated away during the next two decades.

Another study in March 2017 by analysts at the consultancy PwC estimated that that around 38 percent of jobs in the U.S. are at potential high risk of automation.

The new study by CEER, "Revisiting the Risks of Automation," says not so fast. Earlier studies skewed their estimates of future job-stealing automation relying too heavily on occupation-level instead of job-level data with regard to the tasks that people actually perform while working.

Applying this analysis to jobs across the U.S. economy, the CEER find "that the automation risk of U.S. jobs drops from 38 percent to 9 percent when allowing for workplace heterogeneity. Occupation-level assessments of automation potentials thus are severely upward-biased."

The researchers found "the majority of jobs involve non-automatable tasks more often compared to the occupational median job, as workers of the same occupation specialize in different non-automatable tasks." In other words, workers increasingly take on other tasks that complement the aspects of their jobs that become automated.

As an example, the authors' analysis finds that there is a 74.4 percent risk of automation for ISCO-08 classified Numerical and Material Recording Clerks when looking just at median-occupation level data. However, job-level data suggests that many clerks specialize in niches that involve non-automatable tasks such as presenting, planning or problem solving.

"Taking the large and heterogeneous range of their tasks into account suggests that only 18.2 percent of them actually face a high risk of automation," the researchers conclude. "Put differently, the average worker does a job that is much less automatable than the median job automation potential in this profession."

Still, if one in ten U.S. jobs is endangered by robots, doesn't mean that we should nevertheless be worried? Probably not. As the CEER analysts note, whether or not automation leads to net job losses depends on the relative sizes of its job-creation and job-destruction effects.

My July, 2017 article, "Are Robots Going to Steal Our Jobs?," pointed out there are good reasons to think that just like previous waves of technological progress modern automation will result in the creation of more jobs, not fewer.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Ooo, I simply cannot wait until we can automate research.

  • Griffin3||

    Only 9%? Somebody is not robotting hard enough. For instance, I believe a robot is making 98% of reason first comments.

  • Longtobefree||

    Tony, you gonna take that?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Bite my shiny metal ass.

  • Microaggressor||

    As long as there are unmet human wants or needs, there will be a job to provide for it. Only exception is if that type of job is regulated out of feasible existence.

  • Cy||

    I can't wait for the "Equal rights for robots" idiots. I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime, but after the last 5 years of watching anyone who can claim some victim hood getting special treatment for it, it's not far away.

  • Rich||

    Yep. It'll get even weirder as AI improves.

  • CE||

    Someone will start the campaign to stop robot trafficking, no doubt.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Good News: Robots Will Steal Only 9 Percent of Jobs, Not 38 Percent Says New Study
    Whether automation produces net job losses depends on the relative sizes of its job-creation and job-destruction effects.

    More good news.
    The robots will demand unionization and will strike for more oil in their joints, more and better batteries placement increase in pay, better benefits and more time off.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Next thing you know, they're going to want a heart.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I'm not sure about robots making such demands, but I am willing to bet that, once sexbots are commonplace, the authorities will start crying about robot trafficking victims.

  • Longtobefree||

    And, of course, only robots can play robots in a movie, stage play, or any other entertainment presentation, including VR.

  • Cy||

    Just think of all of the movies the proggies will have to go back and strip from our history! Wouldn't want to offend anyone.

  • Juice||

    Cool! I guess that means lower premiums on robot insurance.

  • Jerryskids||

    Robots have stolen millions of jobs that wouldn't have existed if not for robots, the same way capitalism oppresses people by not providing them with the goods only made possible by capitalism.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Might as well throw darts at a dart board on this one. There are so many second and third order effects, it would seem that the only semi reliable data will be from Labor Dept studies conducted 10 years after the measurement date. And since it sounds like the robots may be conducting those studies, who knows what they will look like?

  • some guy||

    You can't steal something that can't be owned.

    Besides, automation "stole" nearly all of the farm jobs and we're all better off for it. I mean, who really wants to work 12+ hours a day, 6+ days a week at filthy, back-breaking labor?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Researchers at Oxford University surveying 702 occupations reported in 2013 that nearly half of all jobs in the United States are at risk of being automated away during the next two decades.

    How many jobs in the typing pool were lost when we automated word processing?

  • CE||

    All of them.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Exactly, and no one weeps for the typing pool.

    It's also been repeatedly pointed out that a high percentage of farm labor was wiped out with automation.

  • Being Waterboarded||

    Why would the title start with "Good news:"? Seriously, this article (or just the title) could get picked up and referenced elsewhere. Reason authors ought to be careful and mindful of this. Most idiots truly believe that robots (or immigrants) can actually "steal" jobs and be a net negative on the economy. Automation, as far as I can tell, has NEVER reduced quality of life. I would argue that we'd be much better off if we could quickly develop robots to do basically ALL labor, even if that led to a huge unemployment rate. Employment is a means to an end (quality of life), not an end in and of itself. Automation ultimately improves quality of life much more so than the temporary shifting of employment reduces it.

  • Fairbanks||

    Very good points. But it should be pointed out that while we're overall better off, there will be some who are worse off. And one theory, which is plausible, is that the rate of change has accelerated and the ability of displaced workers to find replacement employment that comes close to what disappeared is more difficult now. Also, some people would not find unemployment to be as high a quality of life as being employed, even if they maintained their economic status (I'm not one of them). Not saying we should ratchet down the progress, just that there are negative consequences to some.

  • Rich||

    Good News: Robots Will Steal Only 9 Percent of Jobs, Not 38 Percent Says New Study

    Bad News: Those 9 Percent Are In The Sex Industry

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    They'll always be able to find work at my house.

  • CE||

    Robots will steal 100 percent of the jobs eventually, and on that day we will throw a giant party, because everything will be free.

  • esteve7||

    Freakin luddites have been wrong throughout history. Switching to the car put a lot of horse and buggy people out of business. Should have had the state put a clamp down on that!

    Thoughout history everyone has freaked over automation and they've been wrong everytime.

    I work in IT and us automating your job actually helps you make more money because you are more productive. Or do you think bank tellers would make more if they used hand ledgers and we needed 50 tellers at every branch instead of 4...

  • Cy||

    Do you know what happened to a lot of the horses that got replaced? I'll give you a hint, there wasn't a UBI to keep them all fed and happy.

  • Being Waterboarded||

    They were placed in a caring, idyllic horse farm in Kentucky and spent the rest of their days being stroked, racing and playing "stud"? Please don't tell me otherwise....

  • Longtobefree||

    OK, I won't tell you otherwise.
    And Old Yeller actually survived . . . . . . . .
    And the Titanic made port . . . . .
    And Democrats have your best interests at heart . . . . .

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    I suspect that the transition was slow enough that most died of old age and weren't replaced.

    Either that or glue

  • Being Waterboarded||

    NOOOO!!!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But enough about the drivers, what about the horses?

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Robots Will Steal Only 9 Percent of Jobs

    Mexican robots?

  • Longtobefree||

    Robots will not steal any jobs; they will do ones people give up.
    However, a robot that can only speak the word "no" could replace 50% of all managers.

  • alaskan15||

    I think I could handle a robot boss that can only speak the word "No".

    "Hey robot boss, do you mind if I leave early and still get paid?"

    "Hey, robot boss, do I need to chip in for the birthday gift for Sara if I want some of the cake?"

    "Hey robot boss, do I really have to attend the mandatory meeting?"

    "Hey robot boss, does this outfit make me look fat?"

  • AlmightyJB||

    But what if I steal a robot?

  • Cy||

    Hmmm... I can see it now, the new Federal "Roboknapping" division. With their paramilitary humvees, drones and full auto .50 machine guns. Gotta protect them robots!

  • contrarian||

    "As the CEER analysts note, whether or not automation leads to net job losses depends on the relative sizes of its job-creation and job-destruction effects."

    Missing the point. As long as people want things there will be demand for labor. And people will work if the money is worth their time and effort. And the money will be worth more the more it can buy. And the more is automated, the more efficient the economy becomes, and the more the buying power of a person's wages.

    Given that people can dynamically reallocate between occupations and there are no distortions (e.g. high minimum wage) there is no scenario in which this leads to mass unemployment or destitution. So can we stop shitting ourselves about robots now and start thinking about how to retrain people?

  • buybuydandavis||

    Given that people can dynamically reallocate between occupations and there are no distortions (e.g. high minimum wage) there is no scenario in which this leads to mass unemployment or destitution.

    Assuming a perfectly friction free and regulation free economy...

  • buybuydandavis||

    "the majority of jobs involve non-automatable tasks"

    Perhaps you could share the objective criteria used for a "non-automatable" task that humans *can* do that machines *will never* be able to do.

    There is plenty that is not automatable *yet*. Everything used to be "non-automatable". And every year, more and more tasks become automated.

    Every year, computers get better, faster, stronger, cheaper. Do you? Do people generally? Eventually, a lot of people just won't be able to compete.

    The analysis is correct in that jobs don't generally entirely disappear as a category. Jobs increasingly use both machine and human intelligence. That's because humans still have advantages over machines. But machines overtake humans in task after task.

    What percentage of farm work is done by mules today? What percentage was done by mules in 1920? Sure, there are things even today that mules can do that machines don't do as well. But that hasn't stopped mules from losing market share and becoming next to irrelevant for farm labor. Machines got better faster than mules did, so mules became economically non-viable.

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