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Could AI really wipe out 8 million UK jobs?

IPPR report finds that companies deeply integrating AI in processes without government intervention could create a “worst case scenario” of job displacement.

By Lauren Hurrell

Up to 8 million UK jobs will be at risk due to artificial intelligence (AI), with women “significantly more affected”, according to new analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The report, Transformed by AI, also highlights that back office, entry-level and part-time roles at high risk to being automated.

The 8 million job loss picture is a worst-case scenario. IPPR urges that far more positive outcomes can be established through government intervention and cohesive efforts to regulate automation in a way that benefits the economy and augments existing jobs.

The next three to five years mark a “distinct sliding doors moment” for the UK “with possibilities for huge job disruption in future or significant GDP gains, depending on government policy,” reports the IPPR, an independent charity that aims to increase fairness in society through policy work and advocates for a more green future.

The IPPR claims a “worst case scenario” of automation could cost 7.9 million jobs if UK government does not implement a ‘job-centric industrial strategy’. (Photo by Jozef Micic via Shutterstock)

Second AI wave the real threat to UK jobs

IPPR’s analysis delineates two key stages of generative AI adoption. The first wave marks the ‘here and now’, evidenced by current generative AI platforms, such as GTP-4. The second wave will evolve as companies more deeply integrate generative AI technologies into their processes.

The findings are drawn from the analysis of 22,000 tasks performed in the UK economy. Those most exposed to generative AI and threat of automation in the first wave are identified as ‘routine cognitive tasks’ which included database management, and ‘organisational and strategic’ tasks, covering scheduling and inventory management. These include secretarial, customer service and administrative roles.

The report says that, as women are more likely to hold these roles, they will be among those most impacted by generative AI and automation, alongside entry-level roles which are becoming increasingly swapped out for AI alternatives.

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11% of tasks analysed were marked as exposed to existing generative AI in the first wave. The research warned that this figure will rise to 59% in the second wave, including non-routine cognitive tasks such as creating and managing databases. The impacts could also creep up towards higher-earning jobs.

“We could see jobs such as copywriters, graphic designers and personal assistants roles being heavily affected by AI,” said Bhargav Srinivasa Desikan, senior research fellow at IPPR.The question is how we can steer technological change in a way that allows for novel job opportunities, increased productivity, and economic benefits for all.”

Aiming for a best-case scenario with AI

The IPPR has drawn out three scenarios for second wave, where the worst case sees full displacement of 7.9 million jobs, and no GDP gains. The middle scenario would see half of those jobs replaced with AI, but with a 6.3% boost to GDP. A best case , IPPR states, would see all jobs at risk being augmented to adapt to AI as opposed to their replacement, which would boost GDP by 13%.

The corresponding first wave scenarios are: full displacement of 1.5 million jobs lost with no GDP gains; 545,000 jobs lost with GDP gains of 3.1%, or full augmentation, where no jobs are lost, and with GDP gains of 4%.

No definitive route requires intervention to protect UK jobs

These modelled scenarios demonstrate that there is no definitive route and guaranteed outcome with deeper implementation of AI, says the IPPR. It therefore demands that UK government intervenes to implement regulation that prevents significant job displacement.

The IPPR recommends a ‘job-centric industrial strategy’ to encourage job transition over displacement, ensuring that automation positively impacts the economy. This should comprise of supporting green jobs (which are less exposed to automation), fiscal policy measures (including tax incentives to encourage augmentation), and regulatory change that prioritises human responsibility of key issues, such as health.

“We are at a sliding doors moment, and policy makers urgently to develop a strategy to make sure our labour market adapts to the twenty-first century, without leaving millions behind,” said Desikan. “It is crucial that all workers benefit from these technological advancements, and not just the big tech corporations.”

Read more: What is the EU AI Act?

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