The robot worker has arrived and many more are coming — impacting the stock boy and the chief executive officer in fashion.
The good news is that jobs aren’t expected to go away as much as they’re going to change, with human workers relying more on automation, according to a new report on the future of work from the McKinsey Global Institute.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are all jumping ahead and have opened the door for continuing change.
“Automation now has the potential to change the daily work activities of everyone, from miners and landscape gardeners to commercial bankers, fashion designers, welders — and ceo’s,” McKinsey said.
“Almost half the activities people are paid almost $16 trillion in wages to do in the global economy have the potential to be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology,” the report said.
While less than 5 percent of all occupations could be entirely given over to robots, the research found that a third of tasks that make up 60 percent of jobs could be handled by machines.
That could help companies do more, and better.
“At a time of lackluster productivity growth, this would give a needed boost to economic growth and prosperity and help offset the impact of a declining share of the working-age population in many countries,” McKinsey said.
That’s the utopian vision, more “Star Trek” than “Terminator,” but it would be a tricky feat for companies and policy makers to make the transition in the generations ahead.
McKinsey said the tasks that are most susceptible to automation are “physical activities in highly structured and predictable environments, as well as the collection and processing of data.”
All of that should be ringing bells for retailers.
Such tasks make up 51 percent of the U.S. work life, accounting for almost $2.7 trillion in wages, and are centered in manufacturing, accommodation and food service, and retail trade.
Many tasks in the retail trade could be automated, according to the report, which pointed to work in a predictable physical environment and the collection and processing of data.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant will be bucking for employee of the month at Macy’s Inc. anytime soon. Other key attributes in retail don’t lend themselves to robots, including management and interfacing with people.
All told, half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055, the report said. That’s a shift in the labor force that would rival the move away from an agricultural-based economy and one that was based on manufacturing — a sector President Trump is talking about trying to bring back.
Agricultural and manufacturing jobs that were lost in those massive changes were replaced by other jobs that didn’t exist earlier. (That doesn’t mean that the march of progress includes everyone, with some workers leaving the factory finding themselves working at fast-food joints or nowhere at all).
“We cannot definitively say whether historical precedent will be upheld this time,” McKinsey said. “But our analysis shows that humans will still be needed in the workforce: the total productivity gains we estimate will come about only if people work alongside machines.”
As long as machines want them to.