The Corner

Economy & Business

Automation: Another Day Another Report

The latest report on the disruption that the automation wave may bring in its wake makes for no more cheery reading than its predecessors. It probably doesn’t help that it’s produced by the International Bar Association. Lawyers are just one of the white collar professions that are going to find themselves at the sharp—as in guillotine— end of the automation revolution. World’s smallest violin, I know.

The Guardian discusses the report here.

Some highlights:

The competitive advantage of poorer, emerging economies – based on cheaper workforces – will soon be eroded as robot production lines and intelligent computer systems undercut the cost of human endeavour, the study suggests.

While a German car worker costs more than €40 (£34) an hour, a robot costs between only €5 and €8 per hour. “A production robot is thus cheaper than a worker in China,” the report notes. Nor does a robot “become ill, have children or go on strike and [it] is not entitled to annual leave”.

That’s not great news for China. The term premature deindustrialization is one worth keeping in mind when reading reports like this, and as for those emerging markets hoping to use cheap labor as their route to prosperity (or at least middle income status), well….

The Guardian:

Peering into the future, the authors suggest that governments will have to decide what jobs should be performed exclusively by humans – for example, caring for babies. “The state could introduce a kind of ‘human quota’ in any sector,” and decide “whether it intends to introduce a ‘made by humans’ label or tax the use of machines,” the report says….

In January, I noted a report produced by the EU’s parliament that included this  recommendation (my emphasis added):

A new reporting structure for companies requiring them to report the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions.

Back to The Guardian:

Even some lawyers risk becoming unemployed. “An intelligent algorithm went through the European Court of Human Rights’ decisions and found patterns in the text,” the report records. “Having learned from these cases, the algorithm was able to predict the outcome of other cases with 79% accuracy … According to a study conducted by [the auditing firm] Deloitte, 100,000 jobs in the English legal sector will be automated in the next 20 years.”

Pushed by the necessity to adapt to an older, eventually smaller population (a change which won’t always be easy, but in a ‘post peak labor’ world will turn out, in the end, to be a happy accident) Japan, as so often, leads the way.

Robots may soon invade our home and leisure environments. In the ‘Henn-na Hotel’ in Sasebo, Japan, ‘actroids’ – robots with a human likeness – are deployed, the report says. “In addition to receiving and serving the guests, they are responsible for cleaning the rooms, carrying the luggage and, since 2016, preparing the food.”

The robots are able to respond to the needs of the guests in three languages. The hotel’s plan is to replace up to 90% of the employees by using robots in hotel operations with a few human employees monitoring CCTV cameras to see whether they need to intervene if problems arise.

Work in the hotel sector is, of course, allegedly one of those jobs that Americans won’t do…..

And education, that magic pill?

The survey…suggests that a third of graduate level jobs around the world may eventually be replaced by machines or software….


‘Elite overproduction’ is not an ideal recipe for social peace.  Mass unemployment is not so great either. History, of course, suggests that these things work out in the end, but what happens before they do?


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