John Everhard, Director at Pegasystems

With the UK’s Office for National Statistics predicting that 1.5 million jobs in the country are at high risk of automation, the situation may not be as drastic as many are being led to fear, said a leading automation software executive.

John Everhard, Director at Pegasystems, which works with a number of leading names in financial services and other verticals, said he believes that warnings about robots taking jobs are over the top and the real outcome of workforce automation will be far more nuanced than the ONS’s figures suggest.

“The ONS study highlights roles that have already changed as a result of automation, the role of the supermarket checkout assistant, for instance,” he said. “But a recent study on the Future of Work by Pega found only 41% of respondents expected AI to principally replace human workers in customer-facing roles where emotional intelligence and judgement are key. Consumers still value face-to-face interaction in some scenarios and this cannot be ignored.”

The ONS, he claimed, is also overestimating the speed at which automation is going to have an impact: “Interestingly, they have marked down the future estimate for job losses compared with their previous report – saying the proportion of jobs at high risk of automation decreased slightly between 2011 and 2017, from 8.1% to 7.4%,” he pointed out. “This is because the advent of automation doesn’t necessarily mean humans will be displaced from the workforce. They will simply be diverted to other areas of the business. The figures also don’t take into account job satisfaction – automating processes that currently require manual completion will make a significant difference in enabling staff to perform much more varied roles.”

There is no escaping the growing presence of AI in the workplace, concluded Everhard: “We need to come to terms with the idea of how we’ll all have digital co-workers,” he added. “Therefore, headlines that lambast workplace automation are merely counterproductive. Rather than instilling fear in the youth of today via research that criticises AI, we need to promote the use of the technology in the workplace so that young people are more aware of its benefits and uses when they enter the workforce.”

by Guy Matthews