‘39% of time spent on chores could be automated within 10 years’

Around four in 10 hours currently devoted to chores like laundry and cleaning could be automated in a decade, experts suggest.

Among household tasks, time spent on grocery shopping was seen as most automatable, with ironing, dishwashing and cooking also featuring on the list.

But the study also found that just over a quarter (28%) of care work is predicted to become automated in the not-too-distant future.

The University of Oxford and Japan’s Ochanomizu University research suggests time currently spent on this task would fall by nearly 60%.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) experts believe time spent on physical childcare would only be reduced by 21% as a result of automation.

According to the study, male and female experts have different expectations about automation of domestic work, potentially reflecting the differences in their life experiences.

Past research suggests working age people in the UK spend nearly 50% of all their work and study time on unpaid domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, and care.

The new findings suggest the potential for an increase in leisure time as domestic tasks get automated.

In the UK, the effects are likely to affect women more than men, as experts suggest working age men spend around half as much time on domestic unpaid work as working age women.

Dr Lulu Shi, a postdoctoral researcher with the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “Our research suggests, on average, around 39% of our time spent on domestic work can be automated in the next 10 years.

“The degree of automation varies substantially across different types of work. However, only 28% of care work, including activities such as teaching your child, accompanying your child, or taking care of an older family member, is predicted to be automated.

“Yet 44% of housework, including cooking, cleaning, and shopping, are expected to be automatable.”

The findings are based on responses from AI experts in the UK and Japan, when asked what difference automation was going to make to housework and other unpaid work.

The researchers found the estimates were influenced by the personal background of the experts.

Ekaterina Hertog, associate professor in AI and Society, Oxford Internet Institute and Ethics in AI Institute, said: “We found male and female experts had different expectations about automation of domestic work, potentially reflecting the differences in their lived experiences with technology as well as their involvement in housework and care work.”

Male UK experts tended to be more optimistic about domestic automation compared with their female counterparts, the study found.

This is in line with previous studies, which show men tend to be more optimistic about technology than women.

But this was reversed for Japanese male and female experts – and the authors speculate the Japanese gender disparity in household tasks could play a role in these results.

According to the study, the general level of optimism in respect of domestic automation also varied by country.

On average, UK-based experts thought automation could reduce domestic work time by 42%, compared with a 36% reduction expected by Japanese respondents.

The authors suggest this may be because technology is associated more with labour replacement in the UK.

While in Japan new smart technologies are expected to work alongside humans rather than replace them.

The study, published in Plos One, involved 29 male and female AI experts from the UK and 36 experts from Japan.

They were asked to estimate the degree to which 17 housework and care tasks might be automated over the next decade.