You’ve seen the headlines: “Robots Will Destroy Our Jobs—and We’re Not Ready for It.” “You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot—and Sooner Than You Think.” “Robots May Steal as Many as 800 Million Jobs in the Next 13 Years.”
Such stories are tempting to take at face value. Who wouldn’t want to know if their livelihood, or that of their children, will soon be in jeopardy?
Here’s the problem: the findings cited emanate from a wide array of studies released by companies, think tanks, and research institutions. And their prognostications are all over the map. They’re coming so fast and thick, in fact, that we here at MIT Technology Review decided to start keeping tabs on all the numbers different groups have come up with about predicted job losses (and some gains) at the hands of automation, robots, and AI.
|2016||worldwide||900,000 to 1,500,000||Metra Martech|
|2020||sampling of 15 countries||7,100,000||2,000,000||World Economic Forum (WEF)|
|2021||worldwide||1,900,000-3,500,000||The International Federation of Robotics|
|2035||US jobs||80,000,000||Bank of England|
|2035||UK jobs||15,000,000||Bank of England|
|No Date||US jobs||13,594,320*||OECD|
|No Date||UK jobs||13,700,000||IPPR|
As you can see, no one agrees. Predictions range from optimistic to devastating, differing by tens of millions of jobs even when comparing similar time frames. We also found numerous predictions focused on losses in one industry, and many that were the result of a single technology, like autonomous vehicles.
Of course, not all statistics are created equal. The most commonly cited numbers are from three places: a 2013 Oxford study (not listed in the table) that said 47 percent of US jobs are at high risk of automation in the next few decades, an OECD study suggesting that 9 percent of jobs in the organization’s 21 member countries are automatable, and a McKinsey report from last year that said 400 million to 800 million jobs worldwide could be automated by 2030.
In short, although these predictions are made by dozens of global experts in economics and technology, no one seems to be on the same page. There is really only one meaningful conclusion: we have no idea how many jobs will actually be lost to the march of technological progress.
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Update: The table footnote was clarified to indicate some of the job numbers were extrapolations by MIT Technology Review based on percentages listed in the reports. The 2013 Oxford study was removed from the table at the authors' request because it doesn't give a specific job loss figure or timescale.
Hear more about robots at EmTech MIT.
September 11-14, 2018
MIT Media Lab