AI will create more jobs than it displaces, says WEF

Fears over artificial intelligence (AI) replacing jobs may be unfounded but employers must provide more training in new tech, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF)

As many as 133 million jobs could be created globally with the help of rapid technological advances in workplaces over the next decade, compared with the 75 million jobs that could be displaced, the WEF has said.

It suggested that new technologies have the capacity to both disrupt and create new ways of working, similar to previous periods of economic upheaval such as the Industrial Revolution.

But Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the WEF, said employment gains from technology are not a “foregone conclusion” and will require greater investment in training and education to help workers adapt. The organisation's report found that there are urgent challenges around reskilling workers and that 'safety nets' are required to protect at-risk workers.

'[This] is a call to action to governments, businesses, educators and individuals alike to take advantage of a rapidly-closing window to create a new future of good work for all,' Schwab stated in the report.

Fifty-four per cent of all employees will require 'significant' training to either upgrade their skills or acquire new skills altogether. Of these, 35% will require an additional six months of training, 9% will need training lasting six to 12 months, and 10% will take more than a year to upgrade their skillset. By 2022, 'everyone will need an extra 101 days of learning', according to the WEF.

The severe consequences of inaction were also highlighted. Company bosses said more than half (52%) of all workplace tasks in existence at their firms today could be performed by machines by 2025.

White collar workers – such as those in accounting, data entry and payroll services – are among those most at risk of displacement.

Almost eight out of 10 (79%) businesses surveyed in the UK said it was likely they would automate work in the next five years, with half (51%) saying it was likely they would make staff who lacked the skills to use new technologies redundant.

Mike Guggemos, CIO at IT firm Insight, said that the findings showed fears over AI replacing jobs are misguided.

Fears of mass job displacement by AI are misplaced – the technology has intelligence but not wisdom, and that limits what it can accomplish by itself. The real impact of AI on the employment market over the next few years will be to shift people from one role to another, and to create new roles," he said.

“This migration does not represent a great rupture in the jobs market, but a continuation of what has always happened with new technologies that automate tasks going back to the first Industrial Revolution; the lowest skills are replaced by higher skills.”

Guggemos added that humans will still be needed to guide technology.

“A lot of these new jobs will be centred around understanding and managing the technology, as the limitations of machine learning means it needs human wisdom to guide it. For example, automating a business process like parsing a legal contract requires somebody to set up and coach the technology until it can do its tasks on its own.

“To prepare for this future, organisations need to lay the groundwork for a shifting but connected workforce; enabling people to learn the skills that will see them prosper as AI enters the workplace.”