Study: Machines could halve jobs

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Study: Machines could halve jobs

By 2050, 100 percent of human activities performed on the job can be replaced by machines, an expert on urbanization and the global economy says.

Jonathan Woetzel, a director of the McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey’s business and economics research arm, said current technology could technically eliminate at least half of the human work required for jobs and 100 percent of human activity by 2050.

“Fifty percent of all activities could be automated today, and that is the technical line,” said Woetzel, at a Institute for Global Economics lecture at Seoul Press Center in central Seoul, on Thursday. “One hundred percent of jobs that we have today, by the year 2050, could technically be automated. If you believe in technological progress and how fast AI is going and improving, basically, everything we do today will be different in the future.”

Woetzel presented results of McKinsey research that reviewed seven types of activities that humans need for their jobs, such as managing, advising, and performing unpredictable and predictable duties.

However, he added that the most important factor in predicting how fast we adopt that technology is cost-efficiency.

“Job categories might still be there but there probably will be different jobs,” said Woetzel. “But that [data show] the technical side. That’s not reality, of course. The reality is not 50 percent today and it is zero.

“But in 20 to 40 years we will get there. A lot of it is economics and some doesn’t make sense to be automated [at this moment].”

Janitors and groundskeepers can be replaced immediately but it still is cheaper to hire humans for those jobs rather than building and installing systems to have machines replace them, Woetzel said.

“On the other hand, dental assistants, who cost you about $65,000 a year, spend all their time interpreting codes for billing purposes and categorizing different kinds of operations,” said Woetzel. He argued that job can be automated faster than a janitor’s since heavy equipment isn’t required.

He also pointed out that many believed that bank tellers, who were thought to only count money, would disappear when ATMs were introduced.

Those jobs weren’t eliminated but, in fact, grew significantly with the introduction of customer relations.

Woetzel, co-author of the book, “No Ordinary Disruption,” said it’s uncertain how long it would take for human jobs to be automated but 100 percent will be affected by technological advances.

He recommended the Korean government work to expand vocational education since the current school curriculum may no longer be useful soon due to changes in technology and the job market.

Recent U.S. Census data showed that the job category that is growing most fast is “others.”


BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]



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