Robots Could Eliminate 11 Million UK Jobs By 2034

Robots and automated computers could replace one in three British jobs within 20 years, according to a major new study.

The prospect of widespread industrial disruption by automated systems has been known for some time - the Oxford Martin School reported last year that up to 50% of all jobs could be at risk.

But the new report makes clear for the first time how the UK specifically could be affected. And it's not good news.

Around 10.8 million jobs - one in three of the UK workforce - could be at risk, according to Deloitte and the Oxford Martin school.

While your mind might first turn to walking, talking robots sitting at your desk and drinking your coffee, the reality of how tech might replace workers might be a little less sci-fi, but in some ways more profound.

Experts suggest that a true artificial intelligence - computers that can understand language, learn and at least appear to think like humans - could be employed (pun intended) cheaply for everything from customer service, technical support and back room operations to elements of professions like law, accounting and journalism.

Several of these AIs already exist - we interviewed one recently.

Combined with continued automation of manufacturing, the result is a net loss of jobs across wide swathes of the economy.

The result means that workers in lower-paid, repetitive jobs are up to five times more likely to be at risk of replacement by machines than those earning more than £100,000.

Angus Knowles-Cutler, London senior partner at Deloitte, told the Telegraph:

"Technological advances are likely to cause a major shift in the UK labour market in the coming decades. Unless these changes are fully understood and anticipated, there will be a risk of avoidable unemployment and under-employment.

"A widening gap between the 'haves’ and 'have nots’ is also a risk as lower skill jobs continue to disappear."

Deloitte said that the safest jobs are those in computing, engineering and science, with the arts, media, law, healthcare and education all fairly resilient.

The report also looks at London and how its risk from automation differs from the UK. It estimates about 30% of jobs in the capital are at high risk from automation, and 51% are at little or no risk, compared to 35% and 43% for the rest of the UK.

The report said:

"An area where jobs are at high risk from computerisation is in manufacturing, where jobs are vulnerable to advances in robotics technology. The relatively low number of manufacturing jobs in London helps to explain why the city’s exposure to job losses is relatively low. London is ahead of the curve in adapting to the changing demands of the commercial market place, and has already made progress towards acquiring a more creative and agile work force. It already employs a relatively high proportion of skilled workers in cognitive, advisory and creative jobs compared with other the US and Europe."

Some economists say that this process will require huge changes to the structure of the economy - and perhaps even wealth redistribution - in order to maintain a base level of living standards.

But others are more optimistic. Some point to the Industrial Revolution as a parallel, where the labour-intensive agricultural world was displaced, but millions of new jobs, professions and types of economies were created. Unsurprisingly, a report commissioned by the British Automation and Robot Association said that more jobs are created by robots than removed by them.

Others suggest that rather than computers replacing workers one-for-one, we will instead learn to work alongside machines who fulfil repetitive elements of our work, freeing more workers up to be productive in other areas.

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