Computers

47% of US jobs under threat from computerization according to Oxford study

47% of US jobs under threat fr...
Jobs involving cognitive tasks are among those under threat, according to the study (Photo: Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi)
Jobs involving cognitive tasks are among those under threat, according to the study (Photo: Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi)
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A graph highlighting the probability of jobs being computerized within the next 1 or 2 decades (0 = none; 1 = certain) (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)
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A graph highlighting the probability of jobs being computerized within the next 1 or 2 decades (0 = none; 1 = certain) (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)
The three bottlenecks to jobs being computerized. The second wave of computerization will depend on how well engineers resolve these bottlenecks (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)
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The three bottlenecks to jobs being computerized. The second wave of computerization will depend on how well engineers resolve these bottlenecks (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)
A sketch showing jobs evaluated as a function of the 3 bottlenecks and the likelihood of computerization (0 = none; 1 = certain) (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)
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A sketch showing jobs evaluated as a function of the 3 bottlenecks and the likelihood of computerization (0 = none; 1 = certain) (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)
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Jobs involving cognitive tasks are among those under threat, according to the study (Photo: Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi)
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Jobs involving cognitive tasks are among those under threat, according to the study (Photo: Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi)
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Almost 47 percent of US jobs could be computerized within one or two decades according to a recent study that attempts to gauge the growing impact of computers on the job market. It isn't only manual labor jobs that could be affected: The study reveals a trend of computers taking over many cognitive tasks thanks to the availability of big data. It suggests two waves of computerization, with the first substituting computers for people in logistics, transportation, administrative and office support and the second affecting jobs depending on how well engineers crack computing problems associated with human perception, creative and social intelligence.

Released by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, the study entitled The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization? evaluated around 700 jobs, classifying them based on how likely they are to be computerized, from low risk occupations (recreational therapists, emergency management directors and healthcare social worker) to high risk ones (library technicians, data entry keyers and telemarketers).

The availability of big data was identified as a major trend that's given engineers huge amounts of complex data to work with, which has made it possible for computers to deal with problems that, until recently, only people could handle. For instance, pattern recognition software applied to patient records, clinical trials, medical reports and journals makes it possible for computers to be used as diagnostic tools, comparingdata to arrive at the best possible treatment plan.

Fraud detection, pre-trial research in legal cases, stock-trading and patient-monitoring are now handled by software after the arrival of big data. "Such algorithmic improvements over human judgement are likely to become increasingly common," the study says. "Although the extent of these developments remains to be seen, estimates by McKinsey Global Institute (2013) suggests that sophisticated algorithms could substitute for approximately 140 million full-time knowledge workers worldwide."

A sketch showing jobs evaluated as a function of the 3 bottlenecks and the likelihood of computerization (0 = none; 1 = certain) (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)
A sketch showing jobs evaluated as a function of the 3 bottlenecks and the likelihood of computerization (0 = none; 1 = certain) (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)

The study suggests how improvements in sensor technology will offer enough big data to engineers to help solve problems in robotic development that were previously holding back the field. "These will permit an algorithmic vehicle controller to monitor its environment to a degree that exceeds the capabilities of any human driver," the study says with respect to self-driving vehicles. "Algorithms are thus potentially safer and more effective drivers than humans."

It also highlights how technological advances have allowed robots to take over manual labor in agriculture, construction, manufacturing as well as household and personal services such as lawn mowing, vacuuming and elderly care. "This means that many low-wage manual jobs that have been previously protected from computerization could diminish over time," it states.

Jobs requiring perception and manipulation, creative and social intelligence were identified as those least likely to be computerized. For instance, jobs that involve consulting other people, negotiating agreements, resolving problems and co-ordinating activities require a great deal of social intelligence, which computers are unlikely to take over. "Most management, business, and finance occupations, which are intensive in generalist tasks requiring social intelligence, are largely confined to the low risk category," the study says. "The same is true of most occupations in education, healthcare, as well as arts and media jobs."

Science and engineering jobs that require a great deal of creative intelligence aren't susceptible to computerization, it states. "The pace at which these bottlenecks can be overcome will determine the extent of computerization in the twenty-first century" the study finds.

The study predicts that computers will substitute people in low-wage and low-risk jobs in the near future. "Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills."

High-wage and high-skill jobs are least likely to be computerized, the study concludes. An appendix containing the full list of jobs considered can be found at the end of the study, which was conducted by The University of Oxford's Dr. Michael A. Osborne and Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey of Oxford Martin School.

Source: The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization? (PDF), via Kurzweil AI

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17 comments
Freyr Gunnar
> 47% of US jobs under threat from computerization according to Oxford study
So? Just tax companies accordingly and give the money to all those people who lost their job. Then it won't matter if the job is done by humans or by machines. Why can't we let go of that that antiquated paradigm?
Isn't it wonderful to let machines do the work for us, so we can spend our life with more pleasant tasks?
tampa florida
the matrix has you :)
Snake Oil Baron
When our income comes from the government we become it's dependants.
Mark A
When they computerize the manufacturing and sales of Cinnabons we will know Hal has arrived.
Cyberxbx
Thanks for the idea Mark. I'll get on that for ya!
But seriously, I wonder if this is taking into consideration the rate at which NEW job titles are being created.
Additionally, I don't think even engineering is completely safe. Sometimes "creativity" is just the expansion of a pattern.... one that the "program" of life has been doing for quite some time (read:evolution).
Look up: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/research/exploringtheuniverse/borg.html
This is a 2006 article!
And trust me, I'm sure even your Nokia brickphone has more intelligence and creativity then some of the engineers I know.
trendspotter
Game over for the surgeon (soon):
"Factory robots are now mastering the fine art of filleting fish." http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24253-robofishmonger-uses-3d-images-to-aim-its-knife.html
Game over for the artist (soon):
a) A Painting Robot Teaches Us About The Artist Process (when computers become "creative") http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673084/watch-a-painting-robot-teaches-us-about-the-creative-process http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-08/07/can-computers-be-creative
b) Can Computers Write Music That Has A Soul? http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673173/can-computers-write-music-that-has-a-soul
Nairda
We will need all the help we can get to sort out our world and make things right again for all people. What percentage of the population do you think would be inclined to sweep the streets and clean the public toilets when social media, social networking and interactive virtual content is so appealing. Probably that 1%. The rest of us will be in our living rooms enjoying the delights.
Besides, the capital outlay for the machines that "will replace us" is not small, so for a long time it will hold back the automation movement.
Creepy things to watch out for that might be a turn for the worst in this respect:
1. When you are in a room full of people in a social environment and nobody is making eye contact with anybody.
2. When you actually want to put your internet gear away and enjoy the sunshine, but 10 apps and whistles let the rest of the world know you are not connected. They strongly discourage you from disconnecting with disincentives if you do.
3. When you go outside, but there are new signs, bypasses and barricades in place preventing access to certain areas of the city that were not announced through highlighted through news media.
4. You walk for an hour on a pleasant sunny day, but see nobody on the streets. Everyone is inside their homes.
5. You can't find any printed books for sale, only magazines
On a positive, the complex nature of our socialization through the internet will actually create more jobs then not. The physical jobs might diminish, but automation of tedious tasks and manufacturing has already been in progress since the 80s, so this is nothing new.
Our lives in future will be filled up with so many other high level tasks that dealing with the tedium of day to day tasks will feel bothersome and better outsourced to the machine. The fact we can't escape from is that machines will likely care for us and the environment more then we ever did. So the human quality of life will universally get better.
Machines will be like the loyal old dog, following us around everywhere and tolerating our outbursts. Offering their unbiased attention, for some people becoming their pillar of support. Think smart phone that also carries your backpack, cooks and cleans for you, and reassures you when you are feeling down.
Threesixty
Why are our factories located in China? This Oxford study is looking at what remains outside of China.
Alexander Lowe
Ditto Threesixty's comment. If it's as cheap to export manufacturing and low-skilled work to where labour is cheap as it is to mechanise, then international capital will continue to chase after states with low labour costs and lax regulation. But logically, in the long-term, mechanisation/computerisation taken to it's fullest extent raises as many questions as it answers. Will there be enough raw material to sustain a mostly mechanised economy? Is there a real (if remote) risk of the computerised systems becoming sentient, and deciding that the human population is an irrelevance, which it can allow to starve, or a potential threat which it must exterminate. This coupled with the possibility that any such 'Skynet'-type computer system may well have a psychology that is fundamentally alien to begin with. And finally... if we can eliminate drudgery by substituting sophisticated machines, a capitalist economy becomes increasingly hard to justify, or make work. Until now, the world's working-class majority has produced the goods for which it is also the majority consumer. What happens when it is unable to produce, and hence has nothing with which to pay for those goods/services?
FabianC
First off im not sure if any of you realise this, but average working hours have increased over the last 30 years, not decreased; even WITH computers.
Secondly it appears that none of the others posting in the comments understand that money being saved by a business does not just mean that this saved money disappears, do you think once a business has automated some services and saves money that it just sits on that money and doesnt do anything?
It was a rhetorical question, no business that wants to be successful would do this. In fact a business that saves money somewhere will invest this money elsewhere, which in turn will create new JOBS with better PAY.
CONCLUSION: Money saved by businesses through automation means money freed up for investment and job creation elsewhere in the market. Before jumping to uneducated conclusions please use your brains in the future :-). There will ALWAYS be jobs for humans to do. ALWAYS!