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AI will replace more than 250,000 government jobs, say researchers

Government workers are among the most likely to lose their jobs to artificial intelligence over the next 20 years, according to a new report.

More than a fifth of jobs in the public administration and defence sector will be displaced, the PwC forecast predicts, with job creation amounting to just 4 per cent, leading to a net loss of 18 per cent or 274,000 jobs.

“Clerical tasks in the public sector are liable to be replaced by algorithms as public finances remain under strain with an ageing population, leading to a continuing focus on efficiency gains through automation of routine tasks,” the report states.

“There may be further use of drones, AI systems and related technologies in defence, although there will also be new job creation here for technology experts (e.g. in cybersecurity).”

The findings broadly correspond to a previous report by the centre-right thinktank Reform, which last year suggested that 250,000 public sector jobs are at risk of automation.

PwC’s report suggests public administration workers are the third most likely to be replaced by robotics and AI, after those in transport and manufacturing, which are predicted to suffer net losses of 22 and 25 per cent respectively.

Meanwhile, the health and social care, professional, scientific and technical, and information and communication sectors are likely to grow the most, by 22, 16 and 8 per cent respectively. In total, the number of new jobs (7.2m) is expected to exceed the number of job losses by 200,000.

“Historically, rapid technology change has often been associated with increases in wealth and income inequality, so it’s vital that government and business works together to make sure everyone benefits from the positive benefits that AI can bring,” said PwC’s UK AI leader Euan Cameron.

“These include increased productivity and consumer choice, as well as improved outcomes in those areas that matter most to people such as education to healthcare.”

Increased automation is regularly touted as a way of addressing the UK’s productivity crisis. But a Royal Society of Arts survey of business leaders last year indicated that just 14 per cent of companies in the UK had invested in AI or robotics, or were planning to in the near future.

“Many think that the technology is too costly or not yet proven,” the RSA’s researchers wrote. “For others, concepts such as machine learning, deep learning and cloud robotics appear to be completely new.”

Melissa Di Donato, the chief operating officer of SAP, said the value of AI is “in its power to help us understand information and make decisions in a fraction of the time it took before”.

She added: “If AI is to work for everyone it must have high ethical standards at its core. As this intelligent technology enters our hospital wards, drives our cars and manages our supply chains, it is fundamental that we develop and apply ethical values.”