When pondering the impending wave of job automation one would be forgiven for thinking of low skilled service jobs axed to make way for soulless machines engaging in awkward robotic conversations with customers. So far this has been the closest most of us have come to the notion of automation, whether it be self-service check outs in supermarkets or apps to order food in such high-street chains as Wetherspoons.
As an undergraduate, this may have put some of us at ease with prospective professional jobs supposedly saved from such developments. However, latest technological developments should make us think again. CEO John Cryan of Deutsche Bank recently warned that a “big number” of his staff could have their jobs automated in the future. He does not mean the cleaners. In line for these job loses includes such professional positions as Accountants (economics students beware).
This comes on top of the news from the Bank of England’s chief economist that 80 million US and 15 million UK jobs are likely to be lost due to the progress of artificial intelligence. The jobs most likely to disappear over the next couple of decades as cited by Oxford University, include professional level surprises such as legal assistants and loan managers.
Of course the singular motive for automation from the business perspective will be profit, and it is yet to be seen whether expensive software programmes will be truly effective in replacing professional jobs. Nevertheless, the trend is continuing and spells a worrying forecast for economic inequality. Research by the McKinsey Global institute has found that 65-70% of people in 25 advanced economies have not seen an increase in earnings from 2005-2014. If middle income jobs start haemorrhaging to machines, then these statistics are likely to get worse. Meanwhile the 1000 richest in the UK, those who own the capital to profit from such developments, have doubled their wealth since the financial crisis of 2008.
In response to this trend academic researchers such as Guy Standing from SOAS University are now demanding the introduction of a universal basic income to enable all to share in the prosperity of automation. Automation itself may hint to a transformation in human life not seen since the industrial revolution. A dwindling labour force could fundamentally change the way in which we view social and political struggles. Similarly, initial job losses happened during the industrial revolution when the ancient Guilds of craftsmanship were replaced by machinery. The difference now is that automation finally replaces the need for all labour, save for a few technicians.
With such a huge impact on the labour market, automation is shaping up to be one of the defining developments of our age. The CEO of Deutsche Bank is simply being honest in detailing the professional services in line for the axe. In dealing with this radical problem a radical solution such as a universal income may increasingly become palatable. Yet let’s not worry too much, members of the clergy are one of the least likely groups to be replaced by machines, many may need to find God in this new age.