Deloitte LLP has added to Londoners’ fears that robots are coming for their jobs.
The accountancy giant released a report on Wednesday morning on the status of global cities, paying particular attention to their employment prospects, and noted that “automation risks ‘hollowing out’ London’s lower paid jobs.”
The bad news follows a projection from the British Retail Consortium that 900,000 jobs would be lost in retail thanks, in part, to “robots.” It added that almost a third of stores would close by 2025. The World Economic Forum (WEF) went even further, and warned that while this could be described as a “fourth industrial revolution,” as many as five million jobs could be lost between 15 major and emerging economies by 2020.
Automation on a mass scale has always been concern to economists and employees alike, but we’re now starting to get the sense that what was once in the realm of sci-fi is going to have a real, imminent impact on global cities like London. Nils J Nilsson, professor of Engineering at Stamford, recently told Pacific Standard: “I don’t think anyone has yet come up with any good answers to what to do about automation-caused unemployment […] Yes, more jobs will be created, but I think many of them will be the kind of jobs that can also automated- thus no net gain.”
So who should be worried? The answer has two dimensions.
The first, unsurprisingly, is unskilled workers. Factories which are already heavily reliant on automation will only become more so, taking what few industry jobs the UK still has with it. Public transport may be completely automated within the next three decades, with TFL pushing ahead with plans for Paris-style automated trains and Google Cars perhaps one day replacing taxis.
The internet has already been hugely damaging to the physical presence of the High Street, but Amazon’s aims to go after delivery jobs too with their own drones. While the US has dragged its feet allowing research and development on such technology, the UK has welcomed it with open arms — along with the corporation’s money.
The second dimension is more surprising. The WEF report suggests that women will suffer the automated revolution more severely than their male counterparts. As well as the fact that most of the aforementioned retail jobs are carried out by women, the 2.5 million jobs expected to be created by the “4th Industrial Revolution” are STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) which are, currently, heavily dominated by males.
It may not all be bad news though. According to recent reports, a Mercedes factory removed its car-making machines and replaced them with humans. Head of production Marcus Shaefeur said that robots “can’t deal with the degree of individualisation and the many variants that we have today.”
Perhaps humanity has a shot after all.