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Rise of the machines is slower than expected says World Economic Forum

Don't get too comfortable, machines are doing more thinking

Businesses globally have introduced automation into their operations at a slower pace than previously anticipated, the World Economic Forum (WEF) opined this week.

The org's annual Future of Jobs report said businesses currently estimate 34 percent of all their tasks are completed by machines – a trajectory that would see its 2020 prediction of 47 percent automation by 2025 fall short. The org has therefore adjusted its prediction and now guesstimates 42 percent of tasks will be automated by 2027.

"The human-machine frontier has shifted," said WEF.

The previous edition of the org's research was released in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdowns and remote working were in full swing. Those surveyed, which include hundreds of human resource leaders, heads of strategy, and CEOs, thus envisioned a much more robotic future.

The revised estimates calculate that 65 percent of task automation in 2027 will focus on information and data processing. Thirty-five percent of automated tasks are expected to focus on reasoning and decision-making – activities traditionally the domain of humans alone.

That change will come as roughly three quarters of companies surveyed plan to adopt AI by 2027. If that pans out, it will in turn lead to job market disruption. Half of organizations expect AI adoption to create jobs, on balance, but a quarter think brainboxes will be job-killers.

"It remains to be seen how technologies going through the most rapid changes, such as generative AI technology, may further change the make-up of automatable tasks over the 2023–2027 period, with some recent studies finding that Large Language Models (LLMs) can already automate 15 percent of tasks,” wrote the report's authors, adding that when LLMs are combined with applications that can correct common issues like factual inaccuracies, automation could increase to 50 percent.

LinkedIn's head of global public policy, Suzanne Duke, said [VIDEO] there had been a particular surge in job postings requiring generative AI skills in the past 12 months.

"We have seen jobs mentioning GPT surge over 50 percent in that period," she said, citing cyber security engineers, business analytics managers and AI engineers as digital roles that were on the rise.

WEF managing director Saadia Zhaidi said global trends such as improving digital technology, transitions to renewable sources of energy, and shifting supply chains, would lead to 23 percent of jobs being disrupted.

"The key word there is disruption," added Zhaidi, who detailed that just a little over a half of the disrupted jobs will be in declining occupations.

According to Zhaidi, overall the picture "seems manageable provided that we focus on the reskilling and upskilling of workers."

Employers have estimated that 44 percent of workers' skills will be disrupted in the next five years.

Zhaidi said that the changes in workforces and necessary labor skills will not be felt equally across the world.

"Many countries that have previously been competing on the basis of simply having cheap labor will no longer be able to do so in this new economy, and they're going to have to think very differently about how they invest in building up the right kind of education systems and how they do a massive boost of skills in the current adult workforce," the WEF boss said. ®

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