Fears over machines 'stealing' human jobs are rife, but experts believe technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) could actually create more jobs than it takes over the next 20 years.

New analysis by PwC has projected that around seven million existing jobs could be displaced, but approximately 7.2 million could be created.

The most positive effect of AI is expected to be seen in health and social work, where PwC estimates that employment could increase by nearly 1 million, which is equivalent to around 20 per cent of existing jobs in the sector.

On the other hand, the report estimates the number of jobs in the manufacturing sector could be reduced by around 25 per cent, representing a net loss of nearly 700,000 jobs.

"Major new technologies, from steam engines to computers, displace some existing jobs but also generate large productivity gains," said PwC chief economist John Hawksworth.

"This reduces prices and increases real income and spending levels, which in turn creates demand for additional workers.

"Our analysis suggests the same will be true of AI, robots and related technologies, but the distribution of jobs across sectors will shift considerably in the process.

"While some jobs may be displaced, many more are likely to be created as real incomes rise and patients still want the ‘human touch’ from doctors, nurses and other health and social care workers."

Based on differences in industry structure alone, the net effect of AI on jobs may not vary that much across the UK.

London has the most positive estimated impact (+2 per cent), whereas regions in the North and Midlands, with somewhat higher weightings towards relatively automatable industrial jobs, the impact is expected to be slightly more negative.

However this is only by around one per cent or less of existing job numbers, since even these regions are now dominated by service sector employment.

PwC's report highlights that how individuals, businesses and the government engage with AI and new technologies will affect how many jobs are created and how much they contribute to the UK economy.

The government, in particular, can play an important role in steering the economy towards a more optimistic scenario by mitigating the costs of the displacement effect while maximising the positive income effects from AI and related technologies.

Euan Cameron, UK AI leader at PwC, said: "AI offers a huge potential economic boost to the UK and it’s great to see the government recognise and support the development of the sector through the AI Sector Deal.

"As our analysis shows, there will be winners and losers. It’s likely that the fourth industrial revolution will favour those with strong digital skills, as well as capabilities like creativity and teamwork which machines find it harder to replicate.

"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."

To mitigate the displacement effect PwC recommends the government should invest more in 'STEAM' (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art & Maths) skills, which will be most useful to people in this increasingly automated world.

It should also encourage workers to continually update and adapt their skills so as to complement what machines can do, strengthening the safety net for those who find it hard to adjust to technological changes.

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