According to analysis firm Oxford Economics, robots or AI as it is commonly known, is set to take over nearly 20 million factory jobs by the end of the next decade. However, increasing automation will also boost jobs and economic growth, it added.
Every new industrial robot replaces 1.6 manufacturing jobs, the firm said, with the least-skilled regions being heavily affected.
Regions where more people have lower skills, which tend to have weaker economies and higher unemployment rates anyway, are much more vulnerable to the loss of jobs due to robots, Oxford Economics said.
It’s a vicious circle when it comes to these workers jobhunting as those who move out of manufacturing, tend to get new jobs in construction, maintenance, transport, and office and administration work – which in turn are vulnerable to automation, it said.
On average, each additional robot installed in those lower-skilled regions could lead to nearly twice as many job losses as those in higher-skilled regions of the same country, exacerbating economic inequality and political polarisation, which is growing already, Oxford Economics said.
However, this report also stresses that the productivity benefits from automation should boost growth, meaning as many jobs are created as lost.
Where service jobs are under threat, they are in industries such as transport or construction rather than the law or journalism and it’s lower-skilled people who may have moved from manufacturing who are vulnerable.
The challenge for governments is how to encourage the innovation that the robots promise while making sure they don’t cause new divides in society.
Oxford Economics also found the more repetitive the job, the greater the risk of its being wiped out.
Any job which involves any level of emotion, compassion or creativity will naturally be harder to replace with a robot “for decades to come”, it said.
Oxford Economics has asked policymakers, business leaders, workers, and teachers to think about how to develop workforce skills to adapt to growing automation.
About 1.7 million manufacturing jobs have already been lost to robots since 2000, including 400,000 in Europe, 260,000 in the US, and 550,000 in China, it said.
China is predicted to have the most manufacturing automation, with as many as 14 million industrial robots by 2030. In the UK, several hundreds of thousands of jobs could be replaced, it added.
However, if there was a 30% increase in robot installations worldwide, that would create $5 trillion in additional global GDP, it estimated.
At a global level, jobs will be created at the same rate they are destroyed, it said.