Business World

Sunday 19 November 2017

It's man versus machine in jobs race – and machines are in driving seat

THE robots are coming for our jobs.

As many as half of all developed-economy jobs will be replaceable by machines in the next decade or two, according to a recent Oxford study.

The shift to automated workers isn't new, but it's speeding up. The jobs most immediately at risk aren't necessarily low-skill jobs like cleaning roles or restaurant staffers. Those positions are varied enough and the employees paid poorly enough that it doesn't make sense to replace them with expensive automated systems.

Similarly safe (for now) are some of the highest-skilled jobs: chief executives, judges, surgeons. For the rest of us in the middle: get ready.

MIT economists Daron Acemoglu and David Autor describe the thinning in the middle as "job polarisation".

They suggest that instead of thinking about jobs as low-skill versus high-skill, we should really be thinking more in terms of routine (assembly work, bank telling, data entry) versus non-routine (scientific discovery, managing people, political persuasion).

In today's workforce, anything routine is replaceable.

The dividing line between what's routine and what's not is also shifting. Ten years ago, truck driving and medical diagnosis fell clearly into the non-routine category.

That's no longer the case. According to the Oxford study, taxi drivers and chauffeurs are now among the most at-risk positions, facing an 89pc probability of becoming automatable. (Consider that Google's fully autonomous cars have already clocked more than half-a-million test miles).

Similarly, in healthcare, IBM's powerful artificial intelligence machine, dubbed Watson, is already getting paid to dispense advice on complex medical treatment decisions.

Stock trading algorithms are nothing new, but automated loan officers are. The Oxford study gives a 98pc probability that human loan officers will become obsolete.

Inroads are already being made by Daric, an online lender partially funded by former Wells Fargo chairman Richard Kovacevich. Launched in November, it doesn't employ a single loan officer. It probably never will. It relies on an algorithm that not only learns what kind of person made for a safe borrower in the past, but is also constantly updating its understanding of who is creditworthy as more customers repay or default on their debt.

The result: An interest rate that's typically 8.8pc points lower than from a credit card, according to Daric.

"The algorithm is the loan officer," said Greg Ryan, the 29-year-old chief executive officer of the Californian company.

"We don't have overheads, and that means we can pass the savings on to our customers."

To beat the machines, we'll have to get creative.

Choreographers, curators and art directors are relatively safe, the research found.

So are jobs that require social perception: counsellors, clergy and nurses.

Many of these positions typically require more schooling, said Benedikt Frey, co-author of the Oxford study. "It's a race between technology and education." (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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