Report: Automation Threatens Tasks, But Not Necessarily Jobs
Andy Szal | Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation
A recent report suggests that half of jobs performed by humans could be automated in coming decades.
But the analysis from the McKinsey Global Institute does not expect mass unemployment to accompany that trend.
The report, titled "A future that works: Automation, employment, and productivity," said that any analysis of automation should focus on activities performed by humans at their occupations -- and not the occupation as a whole.
McKinsey analysts said that although less than five percent are susceptible to full automation, nearly all occupations -- including skilled, high-pay positions -- could be partially automated.
"As processes are transformed by the automation of individual activities, people will perform activities that complement the work that machines do, and vice versa," the report predicted.
The assessment said that already available technology could automate up to half of current work tasks by 2055, with physical tasks -- particularly those in structured, predictable environments -- data collection and processing considered the most vulnerable.
Those activities equate to $2.7 trillion in wages in the U.S. and $16 trillion worldwide. The manufacturing, hospitality, retail, and food service industries would be most impacted by automation of those tasks.
The report, however, cautioned that the pattern could take place 20 years earlier or later than forecast and would be implemented at different paces at varying occupations and skill levels.
The McKinsey model also projected that affected workers would broadly find alternative employment and suggested the trend was a "similar order of magnitude" to the technological shifts of the 20th century, when the global economy moved from primarily agricultural to urban.
"Those shifts did not result in long-term mass unemployment, because they were accompanied by the creation of new types of work," McKinsey researchers wrote.
The report warned that people and technology would need to work together in order to realize automation's full potential, but that it could boost global productivity from 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually.
"We cannot definitively say whether things will be different this time," the report said. "But our analysis shows that humans will still be needed in the workforce."
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