The machines may eat your job, but that might not be a bad thing – are any politicians acknowledging this?


There are a growing number of indicators that the nature of employment will change radically in our lifetimes, but politicians are all ignoring this.


On BBC Breakfast this morning there was a piece about robots, themed on the forthcoming exhibiton at the Science Museum,

In the piece they interviewed  Michael A. Osborne , Associate Professor in Machine Learning, University of Oxford in which he repeated the research estimate that robots would replace 35% of UK employment by 2030, e.g .transport, taxis, processing invoices etc.

That in turn is highlighted in this 2015 BBC story, extrapolated from this 2013 paper by Frey and Osborne which examined the US jobs market and concluded that estimated 47% of total employment was at risk.

Also this week in “Wanted: Factory Workers, Degree Required” the NYT quoted Eric Spiegel, the recently-retired president and chief executive of Siemens USA:

“In our factories, there’s a computer about every 20 or 30 feet. People on the plant floor need to be much more skilled than they were in the past. There are no jobs for high school graduates at Siemens today.”

Although the Frey and Osbourne paper does not put firm time horizons on their predictions, instead saying “We refer to these jobs as at risk – i.e. jobs we expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two”, some of the notable occupations with a predicted probability of replacement by machines of > 75% include:

  • painters, construction and maintenance
  • locksmiths
  • electric motor and power tool repairers
  • bartenders
  • archivists
  • barbers
  • fast food cooks
  • property managers and estate agents
  • electronics technicians
  • executive assistants
  • technical writers
  • pharmacy technicians
  • accountants and auditors
  • budget analysts
  • paralegals and legal assistants
  • credit authorisers
  • drivers
  • telemarketers

A counter view

By contrast, Matthew Yglesias puts forward a counter view – that we should be worried if we don’t automate lots of jobs, because of the dramatic negative impact on productivity.

In his view if societies do not embrace increasing automation (which by implication means finding the ways to invest in it) then they are doomed to a low-income, low living standard future, with a fatal combination of low productivity and spiralling healthcare and social care costs.


There is a clear message in this research – the very nature of employment is already changing far beyond the increased casualisation that is highest on most debates. Many forms of employment will disappear within the working lifetime of children now in schools.

At the same time we need to ensure that we can invest in the technology that will bring high productivity comemrce to the country.

Some questions for the politicians:

  • how will the UK attract investment in the technology needed to operate efficiently in the 2030’s?
  • what changes do we need to be planning NOW to the education system to prepare people for that world?
  • how will our society support the people who cannot reach the levels of education needed to get the jobs that will be available?
  • or is the UK doomed to slump to being a low income, low employment sweat shop?


New York Times link via Doug Belshaw

Featured image CC0 Pixabay

Matthew Yglesias link via Ryan Avent via Michael Osborne


Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change