Get Ready for the Robot Revolution

Get Ready for the Robot Revolution

The World Economic Forum’s latest projections for the future of the workplace, released in Davos on Monday, are striking not only for how many jobs the WEF expects to be automated or made redundant by new technologies, but also for how rapidly they predict that transition to happen. “Disruptive labor market changes, including the rise of robots and artificial intelligence, will result in a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years in 15 leading countries,” Reuters reports:

[The projection] assumes a total loss of 7.1 million jobs, offset by a gain of 2 million new positions. The 15 economies covered by the survey account for approximately 65 percent of the world’s total workforce. … With the International Labor Organization, part of the United Nations, already forecasting an increase in global unemployment of 11 million by 2020, the size of the additional job losses is sobering.

Two-thirds of the projected losses are expected to fall in the office and administrative sectors as smart machines take over more routine tasks, according to latest findings, which are based on a global survey of personnel and strategy executives.

These rapid changes are expected to hit working women harder than men. Cassie Werber at Quartz explains why:

First, there’s a latent boom in job sectors that are, historically, the worst at employing women. Equality initiatives have been trying hard to get more women into so-called STEM careers—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—for years, and it’s been working, albeit slowly. But the new data suggests efforts will have to be redoubled. … This is bad enough, but there’s another blow. While more jobs are being created in STEM areas, automation and what the WEF calls the “age of cyber-physical systems” is eroding others.

Automation was once heralded as freeing women from drudgery, and has certainly done so in many areas, like work in the home. But the WEF’s report notes that the coming job losses resulting from automation will hit women harder than men by making obsolete jobs—such as many office functions—which they currently do. More “men’s” jobs overall will be lost than those done by women, but because women make up a smaller share of the workforce “mean that today’s economic gender gap may widen even further than the current 40%,” they said.