Robots Can’t Replace IT Workers, Doctors, Dentists: BOE Economist

December 18, 2015 by Jennifer Ryan

Computer scientists, doctors and dentists are the jobs least likely to be taken by robots as automation spreads through advanced economies, according to Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Haldane said analysis by staff at the central bank found that occupations with a “high creative and technical content,” and those that heavily draw upon “emotional intelligence,” are “the two classes of employment that are most impervious to the rise of robots.”

The comments, made during a panel discussion on skills organized by the London Borough of Haringey, come after he warned last month that as many as 15 million jobs in Britain, and 80 million in the U.S., could be at risk from automation.

Haldane said that the U.K. is 20 times richer than it was in 1850, and 90 percent of that is a result of improved productivity. In the U.K., productivity has flatlined in recent years, and “some of the resolution of that comes from an improvement in skills.” This, in turn, requires an analysis of where the skills deficit lies, he said.

The U.K.’s deteriorating numeracy is a particular problem, Haldane said. As many as 17 million adults have math skills comparable to that of a primary-school child, and this skills deficiency costs the economy as much as 20 billion pounds ($30 billion) a year.

‘Creative’ Work

BOE staff found that the first type of employment that can’t easily be replicated by robots includes IT engineers, which have about a 1 percent chance of being automated, and doctors and dentists, which have about a 2 percent chance. These occupations involve “more than core numeracy, it’s being creative as well,” he said.

The second type of job includes health, social and childcare, which draw heavily on emotional intelligence, interpersonal and social skills. “Robots would find it difficult to replicate” these skills, he said.

He added that data science “will be increasingly important in the world of work.” Given the amount of data that’s been created, “making sense of it and processing it has never been more important.