David Willetts, the university minister, suggests high-level professions are more likely to be taken over by computers than those that involve apparently simple tasks such as making a cup of tea
Accountants, teachers and other middle-class professionals will see their jobs increasingly be taken over by robots, the universities minister has said.
David Willetts said that professions which require “quite high level cognitive” skills are more likely to be replaced by robots than ones that involve manual tasks such as making a cup of tea for an old lady.
This “rise of robots” would lead to “dramatic changes in the pattern of work”, he said, although not to a reduction in the number of jobs as a whole.
He said that it was a “paradox” that IT advances mean that professions that are seen as “really rather sophisticated” are actually harder to replicate with a computer programme. More instinctive manual tasks are much more challenging to replicate.
Speaking at an event at the think tank Policy Exchange, entitled “The Rise of the Robots”, Mr Willets said: “You kind of intuitively think that beating a grand master at chess must be a harder challenge, but in this world… giving a cup of tea to a little old lady is a bigger IT robotics challenge than doing chess.
“So quite a lot of stuff that we think is really rather sophisticated cognitive work is also routine and can be replaced by systems.
“In areas like accountancy, clearly very significant changes, and dare I say it, much as I love Fleet Street’s finest significant areas of journalism – for several years we have had computer generated financial reports.
He added: “Some of these things that we think of as quite high level cognitive may be more likely to be computerised and taken over by robots ahead of, as I say, giving an old lady a cup of tea.”
IT advances would mean “big changes” in education with automatic systems were already in place to mark tests and even essays, he said.
Vocational teaching for practical skills such as dentistry through to video game style virtual courses “will soon be sufficiently realistic that it will count as training” he added.
Although advances in technology would “dramatically change the type of work we do” but that people must not “fall for the luddite fallacy” that there would be less work as a whole to go around, he said.
Mr Willetts made his comments as analysis by the press agency Associated Press of employment data from 20 countries showed that jobs that had disappeared in the past four years tended to be in well-paid positions in traditionally middle-class careers.
Recent research has shown three in 10 Britons believe that they will soon be replaced in their job by a robot.
The military, space exploration and policing are the industries those surveyed thought were most likely to take over in the next 10 years.