Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday that he wasn't worried about artificial intelligence taking over American jobs. However, on the same day, a new report by PwC showed that more than a third of U.S. jobs could be at "high risk" of automation by the early 2030s, a percentage that’s greater than in Britain, Germany and Japan.
It said that in the U.S., 38% of jobs could be at risk of automation, compared with 30% in Britain, 35% in Germany and 21% in Japan.
As The LA Times reports, the analysis emphasized that its estimates are based on the anticipated capabilities of robotics and artificial intelligence, and that the pace and direction of technological progress are "uncertain."
The main reason is not that the U.S. has more jobs in sectors that are universally ripe for automation, the report says; rather, it’s that more U.S. jobs in certain sectors are potentially vulnerable than, say, British jobs in the same sectors.
For example, the report says the financial and insurance sector has much higher possibility of automation in the U.S. than in Britain. That’s because, it says, American finance workers are less educated than British ones.
While London finance employees work in international markets, their U.S. counterparts focus more on the domestic retail market, and workers “do not need to have the same educational levels,” the report said. Jobs that require less education are at higher potential risk of automation, according to the report.
Other industries that could be at high risk include hospitality and food service and transportation and storage.
Still the report does have a small silver lining, noting that robots won’t necessarily replace so many human workers. The report highlights several economic, legal and regulatory hurdles that could prevent automation, even in jobs where it would be technologically feasible. Automation could end up creating some jobs, the PwC report said. Greater robotic productivity could boost the incomes of those behind the new technology, which Hawksworth said could flow into the larger economy. And that appears to be the same perspective that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has as he said on Friday that he wasn’t worried about artificial intelligence taking 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.”
Mnuchin also said automation would enable human workers to do 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."
Which is what PwC concludes, noting that there is a strong case for increased investment in lifelong vocational education and training to help people adapt to increased automation, warning that universal basic income schemes may also be considered, but suffer from potential problems in terms of affordability and adverse effects on work incentives.