More research on automation

This paper: Arntz, M., T. Gregory and U. Zierahn (2016), “The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Frey and Osborne published a paper in 2013 estimating that 47% of American jobs could be lost to automation in the next ten to twenty years. This paper is in response to that. These authors argue that it’s better to analyze jobs by tasks, rather than entire jobs, and that with most jobs, only some of the job can be automated. Their calculations indicate that only 9% of jobs are at risk, rather than 47%.

According to FO [Frey and Osborne], people working in the occupation “Retail Salesperson” (SOC code 41-2031) face an automation potential of 92%. Despite this, only 4% of retail salespersons perform their jobs with neither both group work nor face-to-face interactions.

You may already see the problem. They assume that jobs will remain when some job tasks (group work and face-to-face interactions) can’t be automated: that those un-automatable tasks are essential to the job. For example, shopping in person involves the salesperson doing a lot of things that robots can’t do. However, anyone who has shopped online knows that at least some of the time, those things don’t matter that much – you can read the reviews online to get equivalent service. (It depends on what you’re buying, of course.) For many jobs, there are tasks that robots won’t be able to do, but those tasks aren’t necessarily going to matter, either to consumers, or to employers who automate the jobs regardless of what consumers want.

So I suspect that their estimate of 9% of jobs lost to automation is an underestimate.

Regardless, in my opinion, we need a basic income now. We already have far too much precarious employment. I’m not sure what is going to happen in the future really matters.

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