AI: which jobs and sectors are at risk

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AI: which jobs and sectors are at risk
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When machines will outperform humans

Debates about AI capabilities often boil down to whether or not ‘Artificial General Intelligence’ (AGI) can be achieved. The definition of AGI is heavily debated, but primarily refers to a machine with the same intellectual capabilities as a human.

Also known as strong AI, such a technology would possess the complete range of human cognitive abilities, including self-awareness, sentience and consciousness. On the other hand, weak AI, which is what we have now, is non-sentient. Human brains and Weak AI can both compute, but only the former can understand what it computes. Many researchers doubt that AGI is even possible and without it, machines will never truly achieve genuine human intelligence.

It seems like the dystopia of The Matrix isn’t likely to become a reality anytime soon, so for the time being you can stop having nightmares about Agent Smith.

However, while machines are unlikely to become human-like any time soon, they will be able to outperform humans in many activities over the next ten years, according to When Will AI Exceed Human Performance, a global survey of AI experts conducted by the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Department of Political Science at Yale University.

The study predicts that machines will soon be better at translating languages (by 2024), writing essays (by 2026), driving a truck (by 2027), working in retail (by 2031), writing a bestselling book (by 2049), and working as a surgeon (by 2053). It also predicts there’s a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks within 45 years and of automating all human jobs by 2040.

Most affected industries

The industries most affected by AI will be retail, finance and healthcare, according to PwC’s Sizing the Prize.

In retail, the study predicts personalised design and production, consumer insights, and inventory and delivery management will be most impacted. Finance will see personalised financial planning, fraud detection and automated transactions, while healthcare changes will include AI diagnostics, pandemic identification, and imaging, such as radiology and pathology.

While those changes will have the biggest impact on GDP, other changes PwC forecasts include autonomous car technology for ride-sharing, delivery, and traffic control, as well as on-demand production in manufacturing and even AI content creation in films, music and marketing.

“No sector or business is in any way immune from the impact of AI,” said Gerard Verweij, global data & analytics leader at PwC.

“The impact on productivity alone could be competitively transformational and even disruptive. Businesses that fail to apply AI, could quickly find themselves being undercut on turnaround times as well as costs and experience, and may lose a significant amount of their market share as a result.”

How work will change

AlphaBeta’s study analysed how Australians spent a total of 20 billion work hours each year, assigning each of those hours to one of more than 2,000 different work tasks – observing how technology has affected the time spent on those tasks over a 15-year period and then projecting future change to 2030.

It then divided the 2,000 tasks into six “task groups”:

  1. Interpersonal tasks – engaging with other people, such as sales, training and teaching
  2. Creative and decision-making tasks – such as designing artwork, software development and strategic management
  3. Information synthesis – interpreting and extract meaning from simple data points, like an analyst
  4. Information analysis – gathering and processing data, such as a cashier calculating daily sales values
  5. Predictable physical tasks – repetitive and routine physical work, such as assembly line workers packaging equipment or agricultural workers picking fruit
  6. Unpredictable physical tasks – such as a mechanic repairing a car or a doctor performing surgery.

“Activities in the first three tasks groups – interpersonal , creative and decision-making, and information synthesis – are generally the least likely to be rapidly replaced by machines,” the study says. “However, activities in the last three tasks groups – information analysis, predictable physical and unpredictable physical – are expected to experience workplace change driven by automation in the near future.”

Source: The Automation Advantage, AlphaBeta.

AlphaBeta contends that these trends have “the potential to improve the work lives of every single Australian in a very tangible way.”

“Tasks lost to automation are typically the most dangerous, least enjoyable and the least likely to be associated with high pay,” the study says. “As automation shifts these dangerous, tedious and less valuable tasks from people to machines, work injuries are set to fall and work satisfaction levels bound to rise as workers can focus on more creative and interpersonal activities. Automation will make work safer, more meaningful and more valuable.”

In fact, the study says that workplace injuries will fall by 11% over the next 15 years as dangerous manual tasks are automated, 62% of low-skilled workers will experience improved satisfaction, and wages for what it considers “non-automatable” work are 20% higher than for “automatable” work.

In addition, it found that over the next 15 years, the average Australian worker will spend two hours per week less on manual and routine tasks – and more time on engaging with other people, creativity and decision-making, and interpreting or extracting meaning from data.

The jobs at most risk

AlphaBeta argues that 71% of the total expected reduction in work time will come from people doing the same job but completing fewer manual and routine tasks. However, that still leaves 29% likely to require workers to change jobs.

CEDA's Australia’s Future Workforce was even less optimistic. It found that five million jobs – almost 40% of the Australian workforce – had a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years.

It should come as no surprise that those most affected will be jobs that are mostly manual and/or routine. According to AlphaBeta, those jobs most susceptible to automation are: construction and mining labourers, glaziers, plasterers, tilers, floor finishers and painters, food preparation assistants, cleaners and laundry workers.

Least susceptible to automation are: contract and project administrators, insurance agents, sales representatives, real estate agents, engineering professionals and ICT managers.

However, high-routine white-collar jobs are also at risk, according the International Bar Association’s study. For example, the study says: “There is a 98 per cent probability that the work of an accountant can be done by intelligent software.”

Want to know how susceptible your occupation is? The ABC has a great online app that allows you to easily search AlphaBeta’s data for your job.

Next: Who’s safe?

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