47% of US Jobs at Risk for Automation

November 11, 2014

Jobs at risk for automation

An Oxford University study conducted by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne suggests that 47 percent of US jobs are at high risk due to computerization; they could be replaced in the next decade or two. This study was based on a detailed study of 702 occupations, and business leaders ought to take heed.

The Google car drives passengers

It’s not a surprise that computers are stealing jobs; what is a surprise is how fast they’re taking these jobs and the kinds of jobs they’re taking. Computers are now doing complex tasks, like driving a car, not only better than we thought they would, they’re doing these tasks better than humans can.

Big data pools are one of the reasons why computers have improved their performance. Big data pools allow for algorithms to be easily tested and improved. Once they’ve been fine-tuned, these algorithms can detect patterns that humans can’t, they aren’t as biased as humans, and, of course, they don’t get bored or tired. These algorithms can also be used to pore through vast quantities of data at terrific speed. That’s why they’re used now in legal research, for instance–to scan tons of legal briefs and find relevant precedents.

Computers are getting better at research, and robots are improving exponentially, too. They are getting better at sensing and dexterity–what was thought to be the unchallenged domain of humans. Robots are now capable not only of vacuuming, but also of performing complex surgical procedures. We may come to trust them more than even our best surgeons.

A whole host of jobs are at risk. Certainly taxi and truck drivers have reason to be nervous with the advance of self-driving vehicles. Pharmacists may be replaced, too, by vending machines that dispense prescriptions. Frey and Osborne believe accountants, loan officers, insurance appraisers, real estate brokers, inspectors, and clerks are among other high risk jobs.

“I for one welcome our computer overlords!” Ken Jennings wrote, after losing to IBM’s Watson. He won 74 consecutive matches against humans, but couldn’t match the speed and wealth of knowledge in the latest generation of IBM’s Watson. When computers win at the highest levels of competitions like Jeopardy or chess, it’s not (pardon the pun) a trivial matter. It signals a sea change. Artificial intelligence will greatly impact the US job market, and leaders need to be prepared. They need to accept “our computer overlords,” too. They need to anticipate the end of certain jobs and the opportunities for new ones. Those new jobs will likely require creativity and social intelligence, which are human skills that can’t easily be taught to computers.

As a leader, how might advancements in automation impact your business? How are you preparing your business and your employees?

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