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Artificial intelligence puts 8 million UK jobs at risk, report finds

3 weeks ago 26

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An estimated 8 million jobs in the UK are at risk from artificial intelligence (AI) unless the government enacts proactive policies to prevent this, a report from a think tank has warned.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said that back-office, entry-level and part-time jobs in particular are heavily exposed to automation, and women are also “significantly” more affected.

The report identifies two key stages of generative AI adoption: the first wave, which is already here, and a second wave, when companies will integrate existing AI technologies further and more deeply into their processes.

The body analysed 22,000 tasks in the UK economy, covering every type of job, and found that while only 11% of tasks are thought to be exposed to existing generative AI, this could rise to 59% if companies integrate the technology more deeply.

‘Routine cognitive’ tasks such as database management and ‘organisational and strategic’ tasks such as scheduling or inventory management are most exposed to generative AI, which can read and create text, software code and data.

The second wave will see non-routine cognitive tasks impacted such as creating and maintaining databases, and would affect higher-earning jobs.

Back-office, entry-level and part-time jobs are at the highest risk of being disrupted during the first wave, which includes secretarial, customer service and administrative roles. Women are more likely to be in such jobs, which means they will be among the most affected, the report says. 

Young people are also at high risk as firms hire fewer people for entry-level jobs and introduce AI technologies instead. People on medium and low wages are most exposed to being replaced by AI.

Nevertheless, the IPPR is buoyant about some scenarios and suggests that broad deployment of AI could also free up labour to fill gaps related to unaddressed social needs. For instance, workers could be re-allocated to social care and mental health services, which are currently under-resourced.

While there is no single path for how AI implementation will play out in the labour market, the IPPR urged the government to ensure that the economic gains are widely spread, rather than concentrated into small pockets of wealth.

“Without government action and with companies left to their own devices, the worst-case scenario is a real possibility,” it said.

Carsten Jung, senior economist at IPPR, said: “Already existing generative AI could lead to big labour market disruption, or it could hugely boost economic growth. Either way, it is set to be a game changer for millions of us. Many firms are already investing in it, and it has potential to speed up many more tasks as more businesses adopt it.

“Over the next five years it could transform knowledge work. The question now is less whether AI can be useful, but rather how fast and in what manner employers will use it. History shows that technological transition can be a boon if well managed, or can end in disruption if left to unfold without controls. Indeed, some occupations could be hard hit by generative AI, starting with back-office jobs.

“But technology isn’t destiny and a jobs apocalypse is not inevitable – government, employers and unions have the opportunity to make crucial design decisions now that ensure we manage this new technology well. If they don’t act soon, it may be too late.”

In January, the International Monetary Fund predicted that AI would have a major impact on about 60% of jobs in advanced economies.

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