Home Bots in Society British government predicts long-term “neutral” impact of AI on employment, and only a minor uplift from supporting robotics

British government predicts long-term “neutral” impact of AI on employment, and only a minor uplift from supporting robotics

Has Whitehall come down too pessimistically on the potential of advanced technology?

by Gary Flood

This week, the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published predictions of the economic benefit to the country out of AI and robotics. And what’s very striking: London sees a much, much bigger possible return out of the former than the latter… and says the robots will take our jobs, but we’ll create new ones instead.

Do 7% of all British jobs face a 70% probability of automation?

In the first study, conducted for civil servants by PwC, the verdict is that AI has the potential to boost the national economy “significantly”, perhaps by as much as 10% of GDP by 2030. The price: large numbers of job losses—with a base case estimate that as much as 7% of all British jobs face a 70% probability of automation over the next five years, rising to 18% after 10 years and possibly as high as 30% after 20 years.

Scary. However, as with many long-term predictions about the impact of automation, if employment created by AI, e.g., in roles like data scientists but also, intriguingly, not from hi-tech industries but in providing relatively hard-to-automate services (e.g., health and personal care) that will be in greater demand due to the additional real incomes and spending across UK Plc arising from higher productivity generated by AI.

As a result, PwC has decided that “the most plausible assumption based on historical trends and past macroeconomic research” is that there will be “a broadly neutral long-term effect” of Artificial Intelligence on British unemployment figures. In the second of the advanced tech economic forecasts it published this week, Whitehall asked experts from a business consultancy called London Economics to look into the economic opportunities of robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) across sectors including agriculture, construction, infrastructure and logistics.

Britain’s robot sector will grow –but from a very low base

Again, the focus is on where “key future opportunities” lie—and again, these are just suggestions, not formulated British state policy at least yet. In any case, the report defines RAS as machinery and physical systems that can act independently of human control, by sensing, reasoning and adapting to a given situation or environment. Such systems, it adds, can understand what is happening in their sphere of operation and tailor their behaviour to circumstances with varying degrees of decision-making autonomy.

London Economics says use cases like automated guided vehicles, mobile retail robots, and humanoid customer service robots could offer a potential solution to some of the major challenges to UK economic growth, including lower productivity than European rivals, an ageing population and a low birth rate. Even better, the study claims its research reveals the UK RAS market could grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 40% between 2020 and 2030, reaching an estimated market size of almost £3.5 billion by 2030.

That’s… not that big a figure, though—especially the same report quotes McKinsey forecasting the annual global economic impact of advanced robotics at potentially $4.5 trillion a year by 2025. The study says that the £3.5bn number must be seen “in light of a relatively low base, with robots in UK industry historically lagging behind other nations”.

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