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A Robot Could Be Your Next Co-Worker

Source | : By Roy Maurer

The robots are coming” has become a familiar refrain, representing the fear that technology will take over jobs faster than people can acquire new skills. But don’t panic yet: A new McKinsey Global Institute study concluded that less than 5 percent of all occupations can be fully replaced by current or soon-to-be-available technology.

The institute, the research arm of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, analyzed more than 2,000 work activities across 800 occupations and found that 60 percent of all occupations have about 30 percent of tasks that could be automated now or soon. Half of today’s work tasks could be automated by 2055, the study concluded, but it’s more likely that the near-term impact will change the nature of work rather than lead to mass unemployment.

“Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are ushering in a new age of automation, as machines match or outperform human performance in a range of work activities, including ones requiring cognitive capabilities,” the study report authors wrote.

“Many workers will continue to work alongside machines as various activities are automated. These shifts will change the organization of companies, the structure and bases of competition of industries, and business models.”

Jobs That Are Ripe for Automation

The pace and extent of automation is expected to vary across different activities, occupations, and wage and skill levels. The activities determined to be the most susceptible to automation will tend to be “physical activities in highly structured and predictable environments,” as well as the collection and processing of data. In the United States, for example, these activities make up 51 percent of work activities and are most prevalent in manufacturing, food service and retail trade.

The U.S. Council of Economic Advisers reported that low-wage jobs are especially at risk, withan estimated 83 percent of jobs paying less than $20 per hour in danger of being automated.

Manufacturing jobs such as welders, cutters and solderers have an automation potential above 90 percent, according to McKinsey’s analysis, whereas the institute pegged the susceptibility for customer service representatives at less than 30 percent.

While occupations with higher wages and skill requirements on average have lower automation potential, parts of those jobs could be automated, according to the report.

“Essentially all occupations, whether high skill or low skill, have some technical automation potential, including CEOs. We estimate about 25 percent of their work could potentially be automated, primarily such tasks as analyzing reports and data to inform decisions, reviewing status reports and preparing staff assignments,” the report said.

Automation of work will impact employers and workers worldwide, but McKinsey noted that four countries in particular—China, India, Japan and the United States—account for almost two-thirds of the number of workers associated with job tasks that are “technically automatable” now or very soon.


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