LinkedIn users have been either disturbed or reassured by a recent tool revealing how likely your job is to be automated in the future. You can find out your own personal obsolescence factor here. Happily for GQ, the site gives lawyers just a 3.5% chance of being replaced by machines, but judges score a more judicially troubling 40.1%. Luckily the career path for redundant judges is clear – they can retrain as “mental health and substance abuse social workers”, and relax in the knowledge that their new roles have just a 0.3% prospect of automation.
The figures are just a rough estimate, but the principle stands: the near future will see many replaced by machines. Automation is breaking out of manufacturing and clerical tasks into service and knowledge-based industries. Driverless cars are not far away; you no longer need a waiter to take orders; and soon you may not need a chef to cook that food. The service and knowledge industries that have grown into the core of the UK’s economy over the last 20 – 30 years now face the same threats that decimated manufacturing. Whether the reduction in service jobs will be matched by an increase in high-skilled “robot maintenance” jobs (and how that will change the face of work) is still unknown, but the increasing pace of automation surely means that the future of work is less human, and more machine.
So far, the academic literature has not addressed how this trend will affect the employment law and HR world. Could we see arguments about whether employees being replaced with an equivalent number of sentient near-human machines are truly redundant? Perhaps the employer’s need for “employees to carry out work of a particular kind” has not diminished in those circumstances (s139 ERA 1996). Will Brussels recast the Equality Directive to prohibit direct and indirect discrimination against robot workers? It’s too soon to say, but answering these difficult questions should help employment lawyers and HR professionals resist automation for a good few years yet.