Nearly half of U.S. jobs could be susceptible to automation over the next two decades, a recent Oxford University study on the Impacts of Future Technology suggests.

The provocative new study, all 72 pages of which can be read here, is a collaboration between Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey (Oxford Martin School) and Dr. Michael A. Osborne (Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford).

It found jobs in transportation, logistics, as well as office and administrative support, are at “high risk” of automation.

More surprisingly perhaps, they say occupations within the service industry are also highly susceptible, despite recent job growth in this sector.

Jobs in transportation, logistics, as well as office and administrative support, are at “high risk” of automation.

We identified several key bottlenecks currently preventing occupations being automated,” says Dr. Osborne. “As big data helps to overcome these obstacles, a great number of jobs will be put at risk.”

A cautionary note here, this does not mean they necessarily will be automated, rather, the authors argue, it is possible, and perhaps even plausible, that over the next two decades existing and future artificial intelligence technologies could be used to cost-effectively automate those jobs out of existence.

The study examined 702 detailed occupation types, using a probability theory and statistics model called "Gaussian process classifier."

Researchers noted the types of tasks workers perform and the skills required to perform those tasks. By weighting these factors, as well as the engineering or technology obstacles currently preventing automation, the researchers assessed the degree to which these occupations may be automated in the coming decades.

"For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”

Our findings imply that as technology races ahead, low-skilled workers will move to tasks that are not susceptible to computerisation — i.e., tasks that required creative and social intelligence,” the paper states. “For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”

Astute Staffing Talk readers may note a similarity between the Oxford University view of the future, and that posited by economist Tyler Cowen in his new book Average Is Over. I wrote about his views in this post.

Cowen says at the top of the labor pool will be self-motivating, technologically savvy, high achievers, who know how to work with – and around – smart machines.

Low earners meanwhile, who haven’t committed to learning, to making the most of new technologies, have poor prospects.

The advances of genius machines come in an uneven and staggered fashion,” he writes. “For the foreseeable future, you’ll always have to be learning something, reprogramming something, downloading new software, and pushing some buttons, all to have the sometimes dubious privilege of working with these new technological wonders.”

To paraphrase the lyrics of Brad Paisley in his song "Welcome To The Future"...

Hey, so many things I never thought I'd see
Happening right in front of me
Hey, everyday is a revolution
Welcome to the future

Tags: News, Robots, Automation, Employment, Artificial Intelligence, Tyler Cowen, Oxford University, Average Is Over, Brad Paisley, Welcome To The Future, Occupational choice, Technological change, Wage inequality, Skill demand