Employment

'Job apocalypse': Up to 8 million Brits risk losing their jobs to AI, government warned

As AI becomes more widespread, the UK is at a 'sliding doors moment', the Institute for Public Policy Research has found

Artificial intelligence could cause a "job apocalypse" if government doesn't regulate. Credit: canva

Up to eight million Brits could lose their jobs to artificial intelligence (AI), a leading think tank has warned – but government intervention can prevent a “job apocalypse”.

As AI becomes more widespread, the UK is at a “sliding doors moment”, the Institute for Public Policy Research has found.

The country could face massive job losses or significant economic gains and wage increases – it all depends on what we do now.

In the “worst case scenario,” 7.9 million jobs could be lost, IPPR analysis shows, with no GDP gains. That’s the same as every full-time member of staff in the NHS, the biggest employer in Europe, losing their job five times over. In a best case scenario, no jobs are lost, and there is a 13% increase in GDP.

Carsten Jung, a senior economist at IPPR, said that generative AI will be a game changer, but that the future is – for now – in human hands.

“History show that technological transition can be a boon if well managed, or can end in disruption if left to unfold without controls. Indeed, some occupations could be hard hit by generative AI, starting with back office jobs,” he said.

“But technology isn’t destiny and a jobs apocalypse is not inevitable – government, employers and unions have the opportunity to make crucial design decisions now that ensure we manage this new technology well. If they don’t act soon, it may be too late.” 

IPPR analysed 22,000 tasks in the UK economy, covering every type of job. They found that 11% of tasks done by workers are already exposed to automation in the “first wave” of AI.

These include ‘routine cognitive’ tasks (such as database management) and ‘organisational and strategic’ tasks (such as scheduling or inventory management).

Back-office, entry level and part time jobs are at the highest risk of being disrupted during the first wave, including secretarial, customer service and administrative roles. Women are more likely to be in such jobs, putting them most at risk.

“Young people are also at high risk as firms hire fewer people for entry-level jobs and introduce AI technologies instead. In addition, those on medium and low wages are most exposed to being replaced by AI,” the IPPR found.

But as AI becomes more widespread – a phenomenon the IPPR describe as the “second wave” – more and more jobs will be impacted. It could increase to AI doing 59% of tasks.

This would also impact non-routine cognitive tasks (such as creating and maintaining databases) and would affect increasingly higher earning jobs. 

But policy choices will impact how this all plays out, says 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,” he said.

In a worst case scenario, 7.9 million jobs are lost. In a “central scenario,” 4.4 million jobs disappear, but we make economic gains of 6.3% of GDP (£144bn per year).

In a best case scenario, all jobs at risk are augmented to adapt to AI, instead of replaced, leading to no job losses and an economic boost of 13% to GDP (£306bn per year). Additionally, wage gains for workers could be huge – more than 30% in some cases – but they could also be nil.

“We are at a sliding doors moment, and policy makers urgently to develop a strategy to make sure our labour market adapts to the 21st 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.”

What should the government do to prevent a job apocalypse?

Without government action and with companies left to their own devices, the worst-case scenario is a real possibility, IPPR says – but a “job-centric industrial strategy” can ensure that the fruits of automation are “shared widely across the economy.”

They call on the government to provide tax incentives or subsidies to encourage job-augmentation over full displacement, and to regulate areas like health to ensure “human responsibility of key issues.”

Finally, they urge the government to support green jobs, as green jobs are less exposed to automation than non-green jobs.

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