The shift from low-wage worker to robot worker

The likelihood of technology replacing workers is hard to quantify, but Frey and Osborne attempt to do just that in their 2013 paper. Using detailed job descriptions for more than 700 occupations, the Oxford researchers evaluate each occupation in three areas: “Perception and Manipulation,” such as coordinated, dexterous hand movements, or working in cramped spaces; “Creative Intelligence,” such as composing a musical score; and “Social Intelligence,” such as negotiating with and persuading other people. Frey and Osborne then calculate the probabilities whether, within 20 years, such work could be computerized. Again, they’re not predicting whether these jobs will be computerized.

On the low end, the researchers’ estimates included choreographers (0.4 percent), clergy (0.8 percent) and chief executives (1.5 percent), whose work is highly unlikely to be replaced by technology. The most vulnerable occupations included tire builders (94 percent), telephone operators (97 percent) and tax preparers (99 percent).

Where do minimum-wage jobs fall on this spectrum? For those jobs in which at least 25 percent of workers earn an hourly wage below $10.10, the median Frey-Osborne probability is 82 percent. When we weight each occupation by its total employment — for example, there are a lot more cashiers than sewers, and they have different likelihoods of computerization — the median probability is even higher at 91 percent.

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