Robots could steal 80 million US jobs: BoE

One central bank has some frightening predictions when it comes to job stability in the future.

80 million jobs in the United States are at risk of being taken over by robots in the next few decades, a Bank of England (BoE) official warned on Thursday.

A prototype robot with two arms, demonstrates its abilities during a demonstration for the media at a warehouse in Noda, in suburban Tokyo.
TORU YAMANAKA | AFP | Getty Images
A prototype robot with two arms, demonstrates its abilities during a demonstration for the media at a warehouse in Noda, in suburban Tokyo.

With U.S. data showing that total nonfarm employment hit 142.6 million in October, that's roughly over half of the total jobs at risk.

And the U.S. isn't the only one who'd be at the mercy of the mechanical hands.

In a speech at the Trades Union Congress in London, the bank's chief economist, Andy Haldane, said that up to 15 million jobs in the U.K. were at risk of being lost to an age of machines, which is almost half of the employed population currently.

To come to its conclusion, the Bank of England conducted a U.K. study which organized occupations into three categories: high, medium and low probability of automation, and demonstrated the share of employment these jobs represented.

It based its survey on research by Oxford professors Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey and Dr. Michael Osborne, who projected a similar change in the workforce over the course of the next few decades within the U.S. Thus, the BoE's own predictions suggest these developments could also materialize over the next 20 to 30 years.

Jobs with the highest level of being taken over by a machine in the U.K. included administrative, production, and clerical tasks. Haldane gave two contrasting examples of risk, with accountants having a 95 percent probability of losing their job to machines, while hairdressers had lower risk, at 33 percent.

With robots being more cost-effective than hiring individuals in the workplace over the long term, jobs with the lowest wages were also at very high risk of going to the machines.

However, Haldane did admit that these projections "may be far too pessimistic."

"The lessons of history are that rising real incomes have ridden to the rescue, boosting the demand for new goods from new industries requiring new workers," Haldane noted, adding that in the past, workers have moved up the income escalator by "skilling up," therefore staying one-step-ahead of the machine.

Koichi Kamoshida | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Haldane suggested society may have an edge against machines in jobs which require high-level reasoning, creativity and cognition, while AI (artificial intelligence) problems are more digital and data driven.

The chief economist suggested that even if the study was accurate; a change in how society works may be underway. People may opt towards work in more tailored businesses Haldane argued, adding that there are already early signs of a move towards more flexible working and temporary contracts.

"The smarter machines become, the greater the likelihood that the space remaining for uniquely-human skills could shrink further. Machines are already undertaking tasks which were unthinkable – if not unimaginable – a decade ago. Algorithms are rapidly learning not just to process and problem-solve, but to perceive and even emote."

Haldane isn't the only one speaking out against this threat.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller told CNBC in January that there's an "increasing fear of technology" in all its different forms. Technology seems to be leaving questions of what will life and people be like in 30 years.

Billionaire Jeff Greene also echoed these comments on CNBC's Squawk Box Thursday, saying that people in the workplace could go the same way of the "horse-and-buggy" did – out of business – due to the "exponential growth of artificial intelligence."

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her on Twitter @AlexGibbsy.