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AI to have varying effects on public sector jobs

18/07/18

Jobs in public administration will be among the worst hit in the UK by the development of artificial intelligence (AI), but there should be a growth in employment in health and social work and in education, according to a new set of forecasts by PwC.

The business consultancy has made the projections for the next 20 years in a report on the net impact of AI and related technologies in its UK Economic Outlook.

It says the overall effect on jobs will be broadly neutral, but there are likely to be sharp variations for different sectors.

The figures point to an 18% loss of public administration jobs over the next two decades, due to a big transfer of clerical tasks to algorithms as public authorities are squeezed to find more efficiencies. There could also be an increased use of drones and AI systems in defence, which the report places in the same category as public administration.

By contrast, health and social care will do much better, as a 34% rise in job creation will override a loss of 12% of existing jobs to produce a 22% gain. The report attributes this to society becoming richer, an increase in the number of older people needing care, and a continued preference for the ‘human touch’ – despite the potential to enhance the capabilities of doctors and nurses through AI.

There will also be a more modest net growth of 6% for education, where there will also be a continued emphasis on interpersonal skills that cannot easily be replaced by AI systems or robots. Human teachers will specialise in areas such as personal coaching, supervising group work and subjects such as art, while machines can take on more routine tasks such as marking homework and running multiple choice tests.

Uncertainties

The report also cautions that there are plenty of uncertain factors that could tip the balance towards the more optimistic or pessimistic scenarios. These largely revolve around the influence of AI on gross domestic product over the coming years.

Euan Cameron, UK AI leader at PwC, commented: “As our analysis shows, there will be winners and losers. It’s likely that the fourth industrial revolution will favour those with strong digital skills, as well as capabilities like creativity and teamwork which machines find it harder to replicate.

“Historically, rapid technology change has often been associated with increases in wealth and income inequality, so it’s vital that government and business works together to make sure everyone benefits from the positive benefits that AI can bring. These include increased productivity and consumer choice, as well as improved outcomes in those areas that matter most to people such as education to healthcare.”

PwC makes two main recommendations to the Government to mitigate the displacement of jobs: invest more in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics education and encourage workers to continually update their skills; and strengthen the safety net for those who find it hard to adjust.

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