Jobs requiring less education run a high risk of automation, according to the PwC report. Yet U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin believes the prospect of robotics replacing American jobs is so remote “it’s not even on my radar screen.”
Over one third of U.S. jobs may be at “high risk” of automation by the early 2030s, a larger portion than those Britain, Germany and Japan, according to a report released in March.
The analysis was conducted by the accounting firm PwC, and stated that its projections are based on the expected capabilities of robotics and artificial intelligence: the pace and direction of this technological progress, therefore, remains “uncertain.”
It estimated that 38% of American jobs could be replaced by automation, compared to slightly lower numbers abroad: 30% in Britain, 35% in Germany and 21% in Japan.
The primary reason isn’t so much that we have more jobs in sectors where automation tends to happen, the report says; rather, more U.S. jobs in certain sectors are potentially vulnerable than, say, British jobs in the same sectors.
What does this mean? For example, the report says the U.S. financial and insurance sectors will be automated at a higher rate than in Britain because American finance workers are less educated than British ones.
Financial analysts in London work in international markets, while their U.S. counterparts are more narrowly focused on the domestic retail market, where workers “do not need to have the same educational levels,” the report said. Jobs that require less education have a higher potential risk of automation, it said.
Other industries that could experience job loss are hospitality, food service, transportation and storage.
Analysts notes that truck drivers will likely be the first sector to be fully automated in the U.S., since long-range rigs travel primarily on highways — the easiest pathways to navigate without need of human involvement.
Yet robots won’t necessarily put all those human laborers out of work. The report also points to a number of economic, legal and regulatory hurdles that could stall the march toward automation, even in jobs where it would be technologically feasible.
For one, the expense of a robotic workforce — including maintenance and repair — could remain too costly when compared to human workers. And in the case of self-driving vehicles, it has yet to be determined who is liable in an accident.
In other words, moving robots outside of a controlled environment is “still a big step,” said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC in Britain.
Following the release of the report, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he wasn’t personally worried about artificial intelligence displacing over American jobs.
“I think we’re so far away from that that it’s not even on my radar screen,” he told Axios Media. “I think it’s 50 or 100 more years.” Many feel that someone in his position should know better.
Mnuchin also claimed that automation would simply enable humans to focus on more productive jobs at higher wages. “It’s taken jobs that are low-paying,” he said. “We need to make sure we are investing in education and training for the American worker.”
Automation may ultimately create some new jobs, the PwC report said. Greater robotic productivity could flow into the larger economy. Sectors that are harder to automate, like health care, could also see an uptick in jobs.