AI and robotics to create more jobs than destroy by 2022

The World Economic Forum forecasts that smart machines could create 133m new job roles worldwide

Photo: EPA A telesurgery medical robotics system MiroSurge, presented at the German Aerospace Center in August.

Machines and automated software will overtake humans in terms of performing tasks at the workplace, by handling fully half of them within the next 7 years, a new report from the World Economic Forum forecasts. The group however points out that the sharp increase could also see a net gain in "new roles" for humans, who will have to revamp skills to keep pace with the way they would have to work with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and precision medicines.

In a study of executives and specialists across 12 industries, published Monday, the WEF concluded that in the so-called "Fourth Industrial Revolution" machines are expected to perform about 42 percent of all current tasks in the workplace by 2022, compared to only 29 percent now. On the other hand, humans are expected to work an average of 58 percent of task hours by 2022, up from the current task hours of 71 percent. Simultaneously, rapid changes in machines and algorithms, or computer processes that are designed to solve problems, "could create 133m new roles in place of 75m that will be displaced between now and 2022.

Based near Geneva, WEG also states that effects of automation may vary substantially across industries, prediciting job losses to be heaviest in mining, consumer, and information technology companies, and less within professional services firms.

Saadia Zahidi, head of the WEF’s Center for the New Economy and Society, insisted companies had "a moral and economic imperative" to invest in retraining and continuing education for their employees as new skill sets for employees will be needed as labor between machines and humans continue to evolve

"Without proactive approaches, businesses and workers may lose out," she said.

The WEF report was based on a survey of human resources officers, strategy executives and CEOs from more than 300 global companies in a wide range of industries. Respondents represented more than 15 million employees and 20 developed and emerging economies that collectively represent some 70 percent of the global GDP.

The study is also the latest in a series of efforts by academics, consultancies and governments to assess the impact that the new technologies will have on employment in the near future. Previous studies, including an earlier one by the WEF, have generally forecast automation will destroy more jobs than it creates.

The scale of projected displacement varies enormously between research groups, however. A Bank of England study in 2015 produced some of the bleakest figures, forecasting that as many as 80m jobs in the US and 15m in the UK could be lost by 2035. A McKinsey report in December produced one of the rosier assessments, forecasting jobs lost and created by new technology might be about equal by 2030.


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