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The continued advancement in automation and artificial intelligence opens up new opportunities for companies to increase productivity while keeping a lean, focused workforce – yet some jobs risk becoming obsolete. A recent PwC report found that 38% of US and 30% of UK jobs could be automated by 2030, with the potential for increased business profitability and the creation of different forms of work.
Business owners can maximize profit by automating routine and repetitive tasks, while keeping the team focused on skilled, creative work. Google is an example of a company that has achieved huge profit and scale with a comparatively small number of employees – less than a tenth of the workforce AT&T had in the 1960s, a giant in its day, says Derek Thompson. In 2015, Amazon had 15,000 robots working in its warehouses alongside 50,000 people, according to Quartz. By 2017, Amazon had increased to 45,000 robots, with over 341,000 total employees.
Robotics is expected to grow to a $135.4 billion market sector by 2019, from $71 billion in 2015, according to International Data Corporation. Although existing jobs will be disrupted, this drawback is counterbalanced by the equally exciting creation of new positions and economic expansion into new areas.
Nonetheless, the effect on employment can be hard to predict. “For a long time the common understanding was that technology was destroying jobs but also creating new and better ones,” says Cornell University engineer Hod Lipson. “Now the evidence is that technology is destroying jobs and indeed creating new and better roles but also fewer ones.”
A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that from 1990 to 2007 in the US, each reprogrammable, multipurpose industrial robot introduced to the workforce lead to a loss of between 3 and 5.6 jobs in the area, with wages falling slightly.
The jobs most at risk are manual, routine positions. John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, says that workers are going to have to be more adaptable.
But for businesses willing to reinvent the focus of their workforce, the potential from automation for increased productivity – and employees with more time to do unique, creative work – is immense.