January 22, 2016

Five million jobs will be lost to machines by 2020, warns WEF

A “fourth industrial revolution” will transform labor markets over the next five years, leading to a net loss of just over five million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

According to the report, titled The Future of Jobs, developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and other areas of technology will contribute to a total loss of 7.1 million jobs across all industries, but particularly affecting “routine white-collar office functions” such as office and administrative roles.

This will be partially offset by the creation of two million jobs, mainly in fields related to computing, mathematics, and engineering.

The authors of the report warn that the changes will result in a widening of the gender gap, with women losing five jobs for every job gained, and men losing only three jobs for every job gained.

Klaus Schwab, chairman of the WEF, commented: “Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base.”

The report is published this week to coincide with the 2016 annual meeting of the WEF held from September 20–23 in Davos, Switzerland.

Richard Freeman has written for IZA World of Labor about the implications of human workers being replaced by machines. He argues that, as employers substitute machines and computers for human activity, “workers need to own part of the capital stock that substitutes for them to benefit from these new ‘robot’ technologies.” Without ownership stakes, he warns, “workers will become serfs working on behalf of the robots’ overlords.”

The WEF report can be accessed here.

Related article:
Who owns the robots rules the world by Richard B. Freeman