The rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) robotics and other forms of smart technologies has led to widespread concern about the potential impact of such advances for employment. A lively debate has opened up about the implications of robotics and other technological innovations for the future of work.
This paper assesses the potential impact of automation technologies for workers in Northern Ireland based on technological capabilities. The evidence presented suggests that some jobs may indeed be at risk of loss due to automation in the medium term. However, the extent of the job loss is likely to be much lower than that reported in media headlines.
We estimate that around 7 per cent of jobs are at high risk from automation. A further 58 per cent are estimated as being at risk of substantial change in the tasks involved in their job over the medium term. This is due to the fact that some of the tasks involved in different occupations can be more readily automated. Other tasks may present ‘engineering bottlenecks’ to automation - as in some tasks are not substitutable by machines. We find that job automation risk is related to occupation and industry, as well as the characteristics of workers.
That said, we note that factors other than technological capability will ultimately determine the impact of automation technologies for jobs and employment. The point made is that ultimately, the impact automation technologies depends on many factors, including (a) the relative costs of workers and machines, (b) the absorptive capacity of industry to integrate new technologies into production processes, (c) the social and regulatory environment, (d) the policy responsiveness of governments.
We conclude by pointing to the need for policy to give attention to not just the risk of automation technologies for workers in terms of the risk of technological unemployment, but also to the various ways in which automation technologies may displace workers.