Home » Artificial Intelligence » Study indicates Robots could replace 80% of Jobs

Study indicates Robots could replace 80% of Jobs

PerezIn a few decades, twenty or thirty years — or sooner – robots and their associated technology will be as ubiquitous as mobile phones are today, at least that is the prediction of Bill Gates; and we would be hard-pressed to find a roboticist, automation expert or economist who could present a strong case against this. The Robotics Revolution promises a host of benefits that are compelling (especially in health care) and imaginative, but it may also come at a significant price.

The Pareto Principle of Prediction

We find ourselves faced with an intractable paradox: On the one hand technology advances increase productivity and wellbeing, and on the other hand it often reinforces inequalities.

A new study due to be published in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Skills and Training by Stuart Elliot visiting analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who incidentally is on leave from the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council, indicates that technology could replace ‘workers for 80 percent of current jobs.’

In his study Elliot relies on advances in speech, reasoning capabilities and movement capabilities to illustrate how robots and technology can replace jobs. I am in agreement with the general thoughts of the study, although I believe speech recognition is now far more advanced than Elliot states. This element alone will lead to a reduction in many jobs, such as translation over the next five years.

Elliot is not the first to claim that robotics and technology will have such a profound impact on employment or inequality. Michael Hammer, a former MIT professor and prime mover in the restructuring of the workplace in the 1990’s estimated that up to 80 percent of those engaged in middle management tasks were susceptible to elimination due to automation.

In the book Average is Over Professor Tyler Cowen also predicts a hollowed-out labor market, devoid of middle-skill, middle-wage jobs, where 80% or more of our citizens will be unable to prosper. They will become a permanent underclass, unable to improve their lot.

This ‘underclass’ may be happening sooner than Cowen predicted. While there are ‘short term’ adjustments in the employment numbers, the majority are in the low-paying sectors, 73% of ‘new’ jobs are in the bottom of the wage pyramid and temporary employment positions rather than permanent.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that among the most rapidly growing occupational categories over the next ten years will be “healthcare support occupations” (nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants) and “food preparation and serving workers” – overwhelmingly low-wage jobs.

Projected job marketAs recent as last month the FT reported that: “New technologies are transforming the structure of the US economy but creating only modest numbers of jobs, according to the biggest official survey of businesses, conducted only once every five years.”

In the book Race Against The Machine the authors state: “Digital technologies change rapidly, but organizations and skills aren’t keeping pace. As a result, millions of people are being left behind. Their incomes and jobs are being destroyed, leaving them worse off.”

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, Google’s Eric Schmidt warned that the problem of new technologies substantially changing and replacing jobs will be “the defining one” for the next two or three decades.

Thinking machines

Increasingly, machines are providing not only the brawn but the brains, too, and that raises the question of where humans fit into this picture. Earlier this year, Jörg Asmussen State Secretary in the German Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs emphasized this trend when he said:

“Digitization, or the “second machine age” (as in the title of the best seller by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee), has only just begun. It is in the process of relieving and ultimately replacing first our physical and then our intellectual labor. This trend will be a threat to brainworkers such as accountants and stock-market traders. And check-out clerks at supermarkets will also soon be a thing of the past.”

Echoing this, Randall Parker, Professor of Economics at East Carolina University, recently wrote:

“Robots and other automated equipment have increased factory automation so much that factories are a dwindling source of all jobs. The next big target for automation has been and continues to be office work.”

In the US manufacturing sector there was a solid increase in sales of 8 percent between 2007 and 2012 but with significant falling employment, the industry shed 2.1m jobs and its payroll dropped $20 billion.

Approximately one out of 25 workers in Japan is a robot, this is in part due to a growing elderly population and declining birthrates, which mean a shrinking workforce, but it is also a fact that global business seeks to drive productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness to new heights with robotics.

This time is different, or maybe not

In his seminal book, The Enlightened Economy, Joel Mokyr argued that: “in Britain the high quality of workmanship available to support innovation, local and imported, helped create the Industrial Revolution.” Dig a little further and Mokyr refers to: “the top 3 to 5 percent of the labor force in terms of skills: engineers, mechanics, millwrights, chemists, clock and instrument makers, skilled carpenters and metal workers, wheelwrights, and similar workmen.”

It was a small minority of the working population that had the skills to help advance the Industrial Revolution, others had to learn new skills to adapt to the technology changes. This time is no different. Just as each revolution sets a higher potential level of productivity each revolution requires a new set of skills to overcome the resistance of the old paradigm, which is deeply embedded in the minds and the practices.

Despite the job losses in the US manufacturing sector factories are increasingly employing more skilled engineers to tend complex equipment and at higher wages, Annual payroll per employee in the manufacturing sector rose from $45,818 in 2007 to $52,686 in 2012.

It’s time to act

Robotic hardware, Artificial Intelligence, automated software and connected networks are only going to get more powerful and capable in the future, and have even bigger impact on jobs, skills and the economy.

The message for all of us can be summed up in a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s second address to Congress.

“As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

In his paper Elliot raises a very good question: “Even if alternative jobs are available, how will the displaced workers acquire the necessary skills for the new tasks?” This should be a wake up call. All of us must give serious consideration to our future and learn the skills that will give us the best chance of working WITH the machines. I’ll repeat Lincoln’s statement, since that’s the big takeaway. “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and ACT anew.” These are exciting and challenging times…


  1. […] In a few decades, twenty or thirty years — or sooner – robots and their associated technology will be as ubiquitous as mobile phones are today, at least that is the prediction of Bill Gates; and w…  […]

  2. bhatmahesht says:

    Robots are going to be like mobiles phones today in 2 or 3 decades. Robotist will be as a profession as economist. Technology could replace humans as 80% of jobs. These are the things that are inevitable.

    When these things happen world would become more inequal. The middle management and wagers will be susceptible to elimination due to automation. Millions of people are left behind.
    But the industry will grow and new jobs will be created. But for those jobs humans need to compete with robots as workers..

    In the past from the time of industrial revolution, skilled employees created new skills which are adapted and learnt by others
    The alternative jobs might be available. But this time robots will get those skills faster than humans.

    If no jobs for humans then it would be lack of purchasing power. Who will buy the products by industries? Will robots become new customers too? Then it would be a great threat to human jobs

    • That’s why we institute a Basic Income for all and start the next great era for human kind.

      Could you picture a place where wealth distribution(Along with the above robots doing all of the labor) allows every individual to be the best self they could be?

      Every person will have the time to create art, music, research science, program software, INVENT hardware.

      So perhaps you shouldn’t worry about who will consume in the new economy, but rejoice because we will all have a chance to create!

      • Mercury Boy says:

        When we reach consensus on this, THEN we can rejoice!

      • akelaslair says:

        Wonderful idea, but the monies that are to be paid as Basic Incom doesn’t grow on trees. It has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is probably the enterprises, industries and organisations where it is created. If you believe that the leaders of these industries etc are willing to share their huge profits with people below their own class, then please listen to the butthurt howls from the one-percenters as soon as anyone mentions “raised minimum wages”.

      • What do you mean “Where will we get the money?”

        Did you forget that robots are doing 80% of mankinds work? Production will soon be completely separated from labor. When that happens, people will finally realize that hard work(labor) has nothing to do with what you earn.

        Do we insist on the current system of ownership? Even though the owners of the robots won’t have to work at all to earn their money? That doesn’t seem fair even according to today’s system.

        The only challenge is undoing the work that was done to convince us that ownership actually existed. We won’t “own” anything in 100 years, we will share the means of production.

        What does ownership even mean really? When you can summon your robots to create anything you could want or need?

      • Brian says:

        I think that is a great idea. Give the work to the machines and allow people to live, heal, and become educated. Why not? The only thing stopping us is ourselves.

      • Jeremy says:

        I’d like to add that subsistence living and bartering which is prospering around pond shops, craigslist, and Alaska; will replace the monetary system completely. Basic Allowance BAH, and BAS will be introduced into society to feed and house people.

  3. Batman says:

    Speech recognition coming with the software on my Sound Blaster AWE 32 20 years ago, was actually quite a bit better than the built in speech recognition in Windows 7 and 8.

  4. Colin Lewis says:

    There is a very good comment thread on reddit on this post – http://www.reddit.com/r/Futurology/comments/2369tf/study_indicates_robots_will_replace_80_of_jobs/

    “This will transform society like nothing ever has. In the early 1990s, I told my family the internet would change the world more radically than any thing since the printing press. It has- and many of our institutions and methods have yet to catch up.
    But this just might make the Internet and Gutenberg seem like ripples in the pond.
    The sad thing is- every two weeks it gets glossed over. I’m not sure what to think or do about it, or in exactly what ways it will transform human society, but it will happen, and it will remake the world.”

    • Mercury Boy says:

      In answer to that, we will either try to maintain a capitalistic model in the face of such abundance which will require the increased control of false scarcity, leading (as it does now) to ever more inequality and civil unrest…

      OR we can embrace these new possibilities and transform the global economy in to an equitable intelligent sharing economy with the new information technologies and the incremental implementation of progressive, chaos-averting, policies such as Basic Incomes as monetary exchange is phased out as a means of distribution.

  5. […] ROBOTICS Study indicates Robots could replace 80% of Jobs […]

  6. […] for Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), makes the prediction that in the near future robots could replace 80% of jobs.  Jobs that are very labor heavy are the first to go because robotics can accomplish that.  […]

  7. aimbot says:

    In fact when someone doesn’t understand then its up to other users that they will help, so here it takes place.

  8. Bob says:

    “I believe speech recognition is now far more advanced than Elliot states. This element alone will lead to a reduction in many jobs, such as translation over the next five years.”

    Speech recognition is just a tiny piece of automatic translation (or a separate field entirely, depending on your perspective). Try browsing Mandarin Wikipedia via Google Translate and see how far you get. Of the issues you run into, zero of them will be solved by improved speech recognition technology.

  9. leow7799 says:

    “Even if alternative jobs are available, how will the displaced workers acquire the necessary skills for the new tasks?”

    1. If not, there is only one answer: redistribution in it’s myriad forms. Minimum wages, EITC, government-paid health care and education, and etc. All based on a tax system that actually is progressive. (When local, state, and fed tax systems are combined, ours is not progressive at all above about $80K a year in income.)

    2. Even if they are available, it’s not clear that they’ll be available to many individuals. Median IQ, by definition, is 100. 50% of people are below that. Realistically, will they be able to do those “alternative jobs”?

    There is a limit to humans’ cognitive abilities. (A limit that the Luddites weren’t even close to.) There is no limit to cognitive skills that might be required to “complement’ the robots.

    Horses faced that cognitive limit in the first industrial revolution. They could never learn to drive tractors.

    They shoot horses, don’t they?

  10. […] That’s the conclusion of Stuart W. Elliott in his recent paper, “Anticipating a Luddite Revival.” (Hat tip: RobotEconomics.) […]

  11. […] That’s the conclusion of Stuart W. Elliott in his recent paper, “Anticipating a Luddite Revival.” (Hat tip: RobotEconomics.) […]

  12. […] U.S. Work at Risk – Bloomberg Bill Gates interview: Robots will take people’s jobs | BGR Study indicates Robots could replace 80% of Jobs | RobotEnomics Reply With […]

  13. […] Billion Jobs to Disappear by 2030 Smart Robots will Take Over a Third of Jobs by 2025, Gartner Says Study Indicates Robots Could Replace 80% of Jobs Could a Robot Do Your Job? In The Future, Will Only Robots Celebrate Labor Day? When Will Robots […]

  14. perlajulieta says:

    Reblogged this on Perla Gutierrez and commented:
    Yes, it is like in the Industrial Revolution

  15. […] Study indicates Robots could replace 80% of Jobs. […]

  16. […] de amplia circulación proyectan que hasta el 80 por ciento de los puestos de trabajo actuales son susceptibles de ser automatizados en un futuro próximo. Hay […]

  17. Roger says:

    All this discussion may be premature. The agony of global warming may have its say before the agony of unemployment from robots. No one wants to admit it, but much of the world may be uninhabitable in fifty years due to rising ocean levels and global temperatures. Crop production may be a tiny fraction of what it is today and many millions may be starving. There is a fine line between Utopia and Horror, and Americans have been spared. People need to remove their blinders and see the world for what it is, not just what looks good.

  18. […] speed in which businesses are replacing workers with machines is a huge contributor to unemployment. It is estimated that in the US alone, 80% of the jobs could be replaced by a machine. If we’re not working, we’re not earning and if we’re not earning, we’re not […]

  19. […] to simply survive in this ever changing environment. We are quickly approaching a world in which robots could potentially replace 80% of today’s workforce. This doesn’t mean 80% of the workforce will become obsolete, but will have to adapt and evolve […]

  20. […] While I don’t think that any time soon the government will be rounding up citizens and shipping them off to other planets, the threat of robots and artificial intelligence replacing jobs is very real.  […]

  21. nanner says:

    So, five to ten years from now AI will take 45% of middle class jobs. In 20 years 80% jobs will be gone. Even professional doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and writers will lose jobs. How will millions of people live without income? What quality of life will people have when everything is done for them? Did I waist my life getting a masters degree so a robot could take over my writing and research? When all diseases are cured and majority of people live over 100 years old, what will they do with their lives? People need careers not just as an identity, but also to evolve as a human being. Why are the AI creators not looking at the larger picture instead of their own personal gain? Nature is being destroyed at rapid rates and now humanity is on the verge of extinction in the next decade or two!!!!!! Why should humans continue getting any level of education, work, or take up any hobbies when robots will be at our every whim to do things for us?

    • J.T. says:

      They had an issue in ancient Rome at one point where citizens couldn’t get job skills and were either unemployed or under-employed. The reason related to slavery and some of the jobs that slaves did required some skill. The government was forced to free huge numbers of slaves so that people could get out of their stagnation. There’s two things happening I noticed: 1. The topic were discussing here on robots 2. Security related jobs or jobs that are policed by security personnel.

      Those with jobs are going to find themselves under more and more scrutiny. Truckers are having to deal with two-way cameras in the trucks that record continuously in front of the truck and at the driver. Should the driver trigger the camera due to hard braking or turning too fast, a video clip gets forwarded to a third party for scrutiny. The cams go back in time 10-30 seconds. So, many of the jobs that will be safe will be policed. We’re going to be damned on both ends. Body cams are now on police officers and they can’t edit the video. They want them on teachers and likely to be put on any worker that is high risk for lawsuits or accidents. There will be millions and millions of security camera screens to monitor and someone has to watch those screens to respond to red alerts or critical events. I hate to sound depressing, but I am not seeing a good future for any of us. It’s like we are just going to build pyramids for the rich. Too many jobs will be within a narrow band of occupations (Nursing, security, automation supervisors, military). Also, not only will there be limited occupations, but the pay will likely rarely be over $50K with most probably between $27k-$50k. Those will be the great jobs for the non-rich. If you look up articles on “jobs of the future” and the expected pay levels, you’ll see that most are under $50k. In my estimation, it would be safer to be an engineer or a nurse. This brings on another factor. Not only will jobs be policed, but the workers will be over-worked like nurses are. As a trucker myself, I am concerned about the self-driving trucks Google just came out in the open with. In my truck, if I get too close to a car in front of me, the truck brakes itself. So, there’s this factor where decisions are even being taken away. Nothing can suck the personality out of you more than to be continuously recorded in your face and wearable technology is going to do that to everyone. You might be aware that some news articles are written by bots. I saw a cut out figure of a woman that was virtual in a mall and so customer service reps are going to be replaced. Walmart just announced drones in their distribution centers. Then, there’s that triple trade deal TiSa and the other two. Not a good future at all an millennials are screwed.

  22. varlicia walker says:

    What should we do ?

  23. […] are gonna get their fondest wishes, assuming robotic productivity increases truly does lay off 80% of the workforce in the next thirty years. If so, then the safety net will have little choice but to expand, and […]

  24. […] reminders and administration, etc., is quickly approaching the level of quality that will result in robots competing with humans for personal care jobs.  This is not science fiction anymore.  It is science fact.  This reality coupled with our […]

  25. Mario says:

    Optimists posting here are not doing the math. There are over 7 billion people in the world today and will increase by 2billion more in the next 40 years. In 1950 the population was only 2.5 billion. Factories and skilled labor built the America and the industrialized world, and robotics and automation have taken over those same exact jobs. If the population stayed the same at 2.5 billion then maybe one can agree to the arguments of new jobs will be created with this new automated revolution. However, it is not the case. Even higher education will not be as much in demand, when information that highly educated person acquired will be readily available by anyone.

  26. Samuel Cordwainers says:

    We are the first species on earth that can create conditions for its own demise. AI is a real threat to our earthly existence. No different than the real threat we face everyday from the existence of nuclear weapons. AI will ultimately overtake humans and create earth’s next big extinction. We should stop the development and further implementation of AI until we can fully understand the unintended human consequences and have throughly answered the questions concerning human impact. This is not some knee jerk reaction. The introduction of AI cannot be compared to any technological advancement seen in the past. The scale and direction of which AI will alter our lives has not yet been determined. Also, how AI will alter our lives cannot be realistically established by the very industry that created this challenge to our very existence.

  27. […] over 40 per cent of current Australian jobs will be able to be done by robots in 20 years time.  A 2014 study published in the Oxford Handbook of Skills and Training estimated that “technology could replace […]

  28. […] we could automate forty-five percent of work activities using already demonstrated technology; an Oxford study goes as high as eighty […]

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