A new American study has found that, on average, a single industrial robot makes six people unemployed.
The report, Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets, from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), found that between 1990-2007, the use of robots in industries led to the average loss of 6.2 jobs.
The report also found that wages in the companies with used robots also fell by between 0.25% and 0.50% per 1,000 employees whenever a robot was added to the workforce.
Rise of the robots
Percentage of jobs at risk of automation by sector
Water, sewage and waste management – 62.6%
Transportation and storage – 56.4%
Manufacturing – 46.4%
Wholesale and retail trade – 44.0%
Administrative and support services – 37.4%
Financial and insurance – 32.2%
During the study, a total of 67,000 jobs were directly lost due to robots.
The report's writers, economists Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, said that automation could lead to a 3.3 million to 6.1 million job losses in the US by 2025.
The problem of robots taking jobs is not limited the US.
In March, the accountancy consultancy PricewaterhouseCooper (PWC) said that up to 30% of jobs in the UK economy could be lost by automation in the next 15 years. But it said that these losses would be offset by job gains in other sectors.
PWC's study found that up to 38% of jobs in the US and 35% in Germany could also be lost, but Japan only faced a 21% fall.
The sectors where automation make take the most jobs include "transport, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail" while "education, health and social work" would be less affected.
PWC's chief economist, John Hawksworth, said jobs in the manufacturing and transport sectors were vulnerable as "manual and routine tasks are more susceptible to automation, while social skills are relatively less automatable".
The firm also warned that men, especially those with low levels of education, were more at risk of losing jobs to robots than women. This was due to sectors who have the potential for high levels of automation have a large proportion of men with low education levels working in them, while more women worked in areas which require higher education and or social skills (such as teaching and healthcare).
Yet the loss of jobs is not limited to "blue collar" manual labour sectors. The financial giant BlackRock recently announced that it plans to lay off 13% of its financial portfolio managers, as it transfers control over investments to artificial intelligence (AI) systems that use algorithms.
In an interview on automation with CBC News, Sunil Johal, a public policy expert from the Moffat Centre, said: "We are starting to see in fields like medicine, law and investment banking dramatic increases in the ability of computers to think as well or better than humans. And that's really the game changer here. Because that's something that we have never seen before."
As the rise in automation at work could lead to a large increase in unemployment, some countries and cities are experimenting with universal basic income (UBI). This replacement for in-work and unemployment benefits grants all citizens a minimum income, regardless of their work status.
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