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Robots Could Replace Half Of All Jobs In 20 Years

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If we’re to believe University of Oxford associate professor Michael Osborne, then robots will replace 47 percent of all jobs by the year 2035.

If you want to stay employed by then, you better think about a career shift into software development, higher level management or the information sector. Those professions are only at a 10 percent risk of replacement by robots, according to Osborne. By contrast, lower-skilled jobs in the accommodation and food service industries are at a 87 percent risk, transportation and warehousing are at a 75 percent risk and real estate at 67 percent. The researcher warns that driverless cars, burger-flipping robots and other automatons taking over low-skilled jobs is the way of the future.

Don’t worry about droids replacing artists and entertainers though. Despite the popularity of virtual idols like Japanese pop sensation Hatsune Miku, or those Tupac and Michael Jackson holograms, Osborne said machines and computers still struggle with creativity, emotion and manipulating complex objects, meaning singers, actors, painters and writers are all guaranteed to be safe from the robot invasion.

"It's very easy to design an algorithm that endlessly churns out paintings or pieces of music but it's very difficult to get that algorithm to distinguish between good pieces of music and bad pieces of music," Osborne said.

He also doesn’t believe humanity will be systematically eradicated by Terminators anytime soon, though he lends credence to the idea that perhaps humans and A.I. may not see eye-to-eye.

"In the long term, yes, we will see machines that may be potentially so intelligent as to have goals that aren't consistent with our own and there might be consequences of that," he said. "But I think in the near term, the larger question is that of employment really, and how people's work might be affected by increasing automation."

We have seen instances in history where machines replaced workers plenty of times before. Almost half of workers in the U.S. were farmers at the beginning of the 20th century, but that rate has declined to just two percent today. Those who made their living getting from place to place by horse were affected by the rise of the automobile, too, and in the early 19th century the Luddites, 19th century English textile artisans, protested job-threatening machines in England during the Industrial Revolution.

"These people weren't irrational. There were genuine risks to their jobs," Osborne said. "And while overall in the end, unemployment wasn't affected, there certainly were very severe negative consequences for those workers in the short term.”

Osborne remains optimistic that new jobs will arise out of the robot revolution. After all, someone will have to maintain all these new metallic workers.

Note: This story was corrected to read "robots will replace 47 percent of all jobs by the year 2035" from 2045 in the lead and story caption. 

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