Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) the global professional services firm has entered the debate about the effects of artificial intelligence and robotics on employment. Calculating that 30% of jobs (some 10 million) are at high risk, its predictions are about midway between those of Oxford academics Frey & Osborne’s 2013 prediction of 47% and OECD’s 2016 10%.
Integral to PwC’s predictions are a loss of 2.3 million jobs in the retailing and wholesale sector and a further 1.2 million in manufacturing, in other words, about half of the jobs in both of these sectors. It relates specific job losses to the nature of particular work roles, whether they are routine or non routine, but also to levels of education – the less an individuals qualifications, the more likely the chance of losing their job.
It’s long been argued that routine work is much easier to automate. But in an era when most young people who enter the labour market are overqualified for the work they do, it’s unhelpful to argue to suggest that job security can be protected and ‘the race against the machine’ prolonged by everybody being better educated.
PwC is more accurate in its arguments about the potential cost of labour replacement and in its observations that the propensity for job substitution in the UK is lower than elsewhere, because this country is a classic example of a low wage economy and a result an economy with low rates of capital investment.
PwC is also right to be concerned about how automation will widen income inequalities – though it’s folly to suggest that workers with not enough qualifications can ‘race against the machine’ by getting more. Like others, PwC attribute too great expectations to education. However although its not completely convinced about the case for a Universal Basic Income, PwC is joining a long list of organisations that are beginning to explore this issue.