Artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies will generate as many jobs in the U.K. as they displace over the next 20 years, according to analysis published Tuesday by audit firm PwC.
The research states that while AI could displace roughly 7 million jobs in the country, it could also create 7.2 million jobs, resulting in a modest net boost of around 200,000 jobs.
The impact of AI on individual sectors is set to vary, however. In the health and social work sector, PwC said that the number of people employed could rise by almost 1 million, while jobs in manufacturing could fall by roughly 25 percent, a net loss of almost 700,000 roles.
“Major new technologies, from steam engines to computers, displace some existing jobs but also generate large productivity gains,” John Hawksworth, PwC’s chief economist, said in a press release.
“This reduces prices and increases real income and spending levels, which in turn creates demand for additional workers,” he added. “Our analysis suggests the same will be true of AI, robots and related technologies, but the distribution of jobs across sectors will shift considerably in the process.”
The subject of AI and its potential impact on society has generated significant debate. In 2014, for example, the late scientist Stephen Hawking told the BBC that the “development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
Other voices have been more positive. In May 2017, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that we were in something of a “renaissance” and “golden age” when it came to the subjects of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
"We are now solving problems with machine learning and artificial intelligence that were … in the realm of science fiction for the last several decades," Bezos told an audience at the Internet Association’s annual gala. "And natural language understanding, machine vision problems, it really is an amazing renaissance.”
Looking at other sectors, PwC said that professional, scientific and technical services would see a 16 percent net increase, while education would see an increase of 6 percent. By contrast, the transport and storage and public administration sectors are estimated to see decreases of 22 and 18 percent, respectively.
In order to mitigate the “displacement effect” of AI, PwC recommended that governments invest more in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and design and mathematics — skills and encourage workers to update and adapt their aptitudes on a continual basis in order to complement machines. The safety net for those who find it difficult to combat technological change should also be strengthened, PwC added.
“As our analysis shows, there will be winners and losers,” Euan Cameron, the U.K. AI leader at PwC, said. “It’s likely that the fourth industrial revolution will favor those with strong digital skills, as well as capabilities like creativity and teamwork which machines find it harder to replicate,” he added.