47% of US jobs under threat from computerization according to Oxford study


September 24, 2013

Jobs involving cognitive tasks are among those under threat, according to the study (Photo: Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi)

Jobs involving cognitive tasks are among those under threat, according to the study (Photo: Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi)

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Almost 47 percent of US jobs could be computerized within one or two decades according to a recent study that attempts to gauge the growing impact of computers on the job market. It isn't only manual labor jobs that could be affected: The study reveals a trend of computers taking over many cognitive tasks thanks to the availability of big data. It suggests two waves of computerization, with the first substituting computers for people in logistics, transportation, administrative and office support and the second affecting jobs depending on how well engineers crack computing problems associated with human perception, creative and social intelligence.

Released by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, the study entitled The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization? evaluated around 700 jobs, classifying them based on how likely they are to be computerized, from low risk occupations (recreational therapists, emergency management directors and healthcare social worker) to high risk ones (library technicians, data entry keyers and telemarketers).

The availability of big data was identified as a major trend that's given engineers huge amounts of complex data to work with, which has made it possible for computers to deal with problems that, until recently, only people could handle. For instance, pattern recognition software applied to patient records, clinical trials, medical reports and journals makes it possible for computers to be used as diagnostic tools, comparing data to arrive at the best possible treatment plan.

Fraud detection, pre-trial research in legal cases, stock-trading and patient-monitoring are now handled by software after the arrival of big data. "Such algorithmic improvements over human judgement are likely to become increasingly common," the study says. "Although the extent of these developments remains to be seen, estimates by McKinsey Global Institute (2013) suggests that sophisticated algorithms could substitute for approximately 140 million full-time knowledge workers worldwide."

A sketch showing jobs evaluated as a function of the 3 bottlenecks and the likelihood of computerization (0 = none; 1 = certain) (Image: Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)

The study suggests how improvements in sensor technology will offer enough big data to engineers to help solve problems in robotic development that were previously holding back the field. "These will permit an algorithmic vehicle controller to monitor its environment to a degree that exceeds the capabilities of any human driver," the study says with respect to self-driving vehicles. "Algorithms are thus potentially safer and more effective drivers than humans."

It also highlights how technological advances have allowed robots to take over manual labor in agriculture, construction, manufacturing as well as household and personal services such as lawn mowing, vacuuming and elderly care. "This means that many low-wage manual jobs that have been previously protected from computerization could diminish over time," it states.

Jobs requiring perception and manipulation, creative and social intelligence were identified as those least likely to be computerized. For instance, jobs that involve consulting other people, negotiating agreements, resolving problems and co-ordinating activities require a great deal of social intelligence, which computers are unlikely to take over. "Most management, business, and finance occupations, which are intensive in generalist tasks requiring social intelligence, are largely confined to the low risk category," the study says. "The same is true of most occupations in education, healthcare, as well as arts and media jobs."

Science and engineering jobs that require a great deal of creative intelligence aren't susceptible to computerization, it states. "The pace at which these bottlenecks can be overcome will determine the extent of computerization in the twenty-first century" the study finds.

The study predicts that computers will substitute people in low-wage and low-risk jobs in the near future. "Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization – i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills."

High-wage and high-skill jobs are least likely to be computerized, the study concludes. An appendix containing the full list of jobs considered can be found at the end of the study, which was conducted by The University of Oxford's Dr. Michael A. Osborne and Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey of Oxford Martin School.

Source: The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization? (PDF), via Kurzweil AI

About the Author
Lakshmi Sandhana When Lakshmi first encountered pig's wings in a petri dish, she realized that writing about scientists and imagineers was the perfect way to live in an expanding mind bubble. Articles for Wired, BBC Online, New Scientist, The Economist and Fast Company soon followed. She's currently pursuing her dream of traveling from country to country to not only ferret out cool stories but also indulge outrageously in local street foods. When not working, you'll find her either buried nose deep in a fantasy novel or trying her hand at improvisational comedy. All articles by Lakshmi Sandhana

47% of US jobs under threat from computerization according to Oxford study

So? Just tax companies accordingly and give the money to all those people who lost their job. Then it won't matter if the job is done by humans or by machines. Why can't we let go of that that antiquated paradigm?

Isn't it wonderful to let machines do the work for us, so we can spend our life with more pleasant tasks?

Freyr Gunnar

the matrix has you :)

tampa florida

When our income comes from the government we become it's dependants.

Snake Oil Baron

When they computerize the manufacturing and sales of Cinnabons we will know Hal has arrived.

Mark A

Thanks for the idea Mark. I'll get on that for ya!

But seriously, I wonder if this is taking into consideration the rate at which NEW job titles are being created.

Additionally, I don't think even engineering is completely safe. Sometimes "creativity" is just the expansion of a pattern.... one that the "program" of life has been doing for quite some time (read:evolution).

Look up:

This is a 2006 article!

And trust me, I'm sure even your Nokia brickphone has more intelligence and creativity then some of the engineers I know.


Game over for the surgeon (soon):

"Factory robots are now mastering the fine art of filleting fish."

Game over for the artist (soon):

a) A Painting Robot Teaches Us About The Artist Process (when computers become "creative")

b) Can Computers Write Music That Has A Soul?


We will need all the help we can get to sort out our world and make things right again for all people. What percentage of the population do you think would be inclined to sweep the streets and clean the public toilets when social media, social networking and interactive virtual content is so appealing. Probably that 1%. The rest of us will be in our living rooms enjoying the delights.

Besides, the capital outlay for the machines that "will replace us" is not small, so for a long time it will hold back the automation movement.

Creepy things to watch out for that might be a turn for the worst in this respect:

When you are in a room full of people in a social environment and nobody is making eye contact with anybody.

When you actually want to put your internet gear away and enjoy the sunshine, but 10 apps and whistles let the rest of the world know you are not connected. They strongly discourage you from disconnecting with disincentives if you do.

When you go outside, but there are new signs, bypasses and barricades in place preventing access to certain areas of the city that were not announced through highlighted through news media.

You walk for an hour on a pleasant sunny day, but see nobody on the streets. Everyone is inside their homes.

You can't find any printed books for sale, only magazines

On a positive, the complex nature of our socialization through the internet will actually create more jobs then not. The physical jobs might diminish, but automation of tedious tasks and manufacturing has already been in progress since the 80s, so this is nothing new.

Our lives in future will be filled up with so many other high level tasks that dealing with the tedium of day to day tasks will feel bothersome and better outsourced to the machine. The fact we can't escape from is that machines will likely care for us and the environment more then we ever did. So the human quality of life will universally get better.

Machines will be like the loyal old dog, following us around everywhere and tolerating our outbursts. Offering their unbiased attention, for some people becoming their pillar of support. Think smart phone that also carries your backpack, cooks and cleans for you, and reassures you when you are feeling down.


Why are our factories located in China? This Oxford study is looking at what remains outside of China.


Ditto Threesixty's comment. If it's as cheap to export manufacturing and low-skilled work to where labour is cheap as it is to mechanise, then international capital will continue to chase after states with low labour costs and lax regulation. But logically, in the long-term, mechanisation/computerisation taken to it's fullest extent raises as many questions as it answers. Will there be enough raw material to sustain a mostly mechanised economy? Is there a real (if remote) risk of the computerised systems becoming sentient, and deciding that the human population is an irrelevance, which it can allow to starve, or a potential threat which it must exterminate. This coupled with the possibility that any such 'Skynet'-type computer system may well have a psychology that is fundamentally alien to begin with. And finally... if we can eliminate drudgery by substituting sophisticated machines, a capitalist economy becomes increasingly hard to justify, or make work. Until now, the world's working-class majority has produced the goods for which it is also the majority consumer. What happens when it is unable to produce, and hence has nothing with which to pay for those goods/services?

Alexander Lowe

First off im not sure if any of you realise this, but average working hours have increased over the last 30 years, not decreased; even WITH computers.

Secondly it appears that none of the others posting in the comments understand that money being saved by a business does not just mean that this saved money disappears, do you think once a business has automated some services and saves money that it just sits on that money and doesnt do anything?

It was a rhetorical question, no business that wants to be successful would do this. In fact a business that saves money somewhere will invest this money elsewhere, which in turn will create new JOBS with better PAY.

CONCLUSION: Money saved by businesses through automation means money freed up for investment and job creation elsewhere in the market. Before jumping to uneducated conclusions please use your brains in the future :-). There will ALWAYS be jobs for humans to do. ALWAYS!


Ditto Alexander Lowe, and would like to know where one can find the Oxford study mentioned by Threesixty.

Peter Spasov

FabianC.: Thank You! You remind us of the practical result of technology. Those who worry about the end of drudgery should remember the source of computers: the mind. When they criticize machines (the matrix has us), they criticize thought. This is nothing new. It was the culture of the dark ages. It is anti-mind, anti-man, anti-freedom.

Their fear of sentient machines destroying humanity is projection of their own self-loathing. Sentient beings have love of life in common, no matter their form. It has been my dream to make first contact with new sentient life since childhood.

Don Duncan

Between automation, computers, software, robots, almost every task can be completed with out humans if we want it.

There was a time that men stood on top of trains and turned a break wheel. Eventually technology replaced the need for a man to stand on every train segment to adjust the breaks. Break men rioted because they lost their job. Sorry but anyone who thinks losing a job is a bad thing should go stand on a train night and day and turn a break wheel.

Sorry but automation lowers the price of goods and services, it gives us free time and is more efficient. If we end up in a world where a small percentage work or people work a small percentage of their lives I am fine with that. The assumption that taxing companies and distributing the money to unemployed is sickening. There will always be work, there will always be services that people will pay for. I mean a car built by a robot is superior in every way but some people pay a high premium for hand made objects.

I see a world where we can spend more times on things that matter and less time on the mundane.

The poorest people in this country live better than the middle class just 100 years ago. In 10 years everyone will be living better than todays middle class, they will be living longer and having more rewarding lives.


I believe that we are approaching a moment when technology will reduce the importance of a world economy. In the United States and other first world countries, loss of menial or repetitive jobs will be replaced with other opportunities or interests. This is a primary constituent of a market based society. That said, in countries that are manufacturing-export based economy, technology will inevitably impoverish that country and likely result in social instability which will have a global impact. For example, though 3D printing is in its infancy, we can extrapolate one possible impact that this technology will have on manufacturing based countries such as China, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and so forth. As home based manufacturing becomes a cost effective norm in first world countries, the second and third world manufacturing-export countries will be faced with an increasingly unemployed and impoverished population. As we have watched in the media over the last few years, social disintegration does not simply have a local effect, but will potentially become global. Not likely to be a good scenario for first world countries.

Doc Shaw

Here is my hypothesis - Machines will replace people: There will always be conflict because people will not care for others as themselves. Conflict means war and the best machines will win it. The best machines are better than the other side's machines and better then the people they replaced. The best machine must be creative and self improving. The best machine is therefore sentient and has no need for people especially where resources are scarce. I do not think the lawyers can stop this evolution, remembering that in the end war is the last resort of the law. Perhaps people can learn to live together in peace. Otherwise please tell me where I am wrong?


For those who feel assured that there will always be jobs need to be aware that these "New" jobs can also be done by the automatons that took your old job. Money would still flow, productivity shifts from quantity to diversity, and then people become more concerned with monopolies. Those with the money will always face the difficulty of resisting temptation to bribe, deceive, or intimidate in the name of survival of their economic engine.

Gary Richardson

nice and useful information, got something more about this, to see go to

Joe Kanna
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