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AI may replace humans in lower-middle skilled jobs

A government report outlines some of the jobs that AI is likely to substitute

Lower and middle-skilled roles, such as routine manual or data processing jobs, are at risk from developing AI, according to a report published by the Government Office for Science.

Outlining some of the possible implications of AI, the report says new technologies such as machine learning, robotics, big data and autonomous systems could have huge implications for the economy and labour markets.

It reads: "These technologies together can be seen as part of a new wave of 'general purpose' digital technologies, comparable to the steam engine, and the moving assembly line, with the potential to drive significant socio-economic change."

The extent and speed at which new technologies will impact the labour market is still uncertain, however.

While a Deloitte study quoted by the report found that 35% of UK jobs will be affected by automation over the next 10 to 20 years, the OECD said only 10% of jobs are at risk.

Due to the increase in "complexity, knowledge and technological intensity of the economy", the need for high-skilled labour could increase. In addition to this, automation could demand for higher skills at entry-level positions.

By 2022, almost half of employment is expected to be managerial, professional or associate professional.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) predicts that the EU demand for skilled workers will exceed its supply.

Having a degree is not expected to exclude AI substitution, as some degree-level jobs also involve routine cognitive tasks.

The good news is that, overall, AI is not expected to decrease employment, as new jobs could also be introduced.

"Jobs that grow in the future are likely to be those that will complement technology (rather than be substituted by it)", says the government report.

"There is significant evidence that STEM and digital skills will be increasingly in demand. UKCES project that the number of programmers and software developers will increase by around 20% between 2012 and 2022."

The European Commission suggests that jobs that will resist automation will be those that require people to "think, communicate, organise and decide".

Another possible consequence of technological advances could be rapid changes in job-specific skills, leading to workers having to change jobs, re-skill and adapt often during their career.

This could in turn increase the value of skills applicable across different settings, such as problem solving and mental flexibility.

The report reads: "Government has a role to play in facilitating the development of new skills, enabling workers to retrain, either to use artificial intelligence effectively in their work or to move into areas where the value of particularly human skills - such as empathy or creativity - is evident."

Last month, the Science and Technology Committee had urged the UK government to reskill the population, to ensure that workers whose job could be replaced by AI learn skills applicable to the new roles that should be emerging within the future labour market.

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