In the latest EconTalk episode, host Russ Roberts interviews the Australian robotics guru and MIT emeritus professor Rodney Brooks. After listening to the episode, I am now much less concerned about artificial intelligence and automation rendering a large fraction of the workforce redundant than I once was. I thoroughly encourage you to listen to the episode, but here’s the summary from the website:
Brooks argues that we both under-appreciate and over-appreciate the impact of innovation. He applies this insight to the current state of driverless cars and other changes people are expecting to change our daily lives in radical ways. He also suggests that the challenges of developing truly intelligent robots and technologies will take much longer than people expect, giving human beings time to adapt to the effects.
So we probably don’t need to worry just yet about those frightening predictions that up to 40 percent of current jobs could be made redundant by AI and automation. Indeed, it appears that much of the jobs growth we have seen in the last decade has been in the types of jobs it would be difficult, if not almost impossible, to replace by robots, in health, aged, disability and child care. The broad Health Care and Social Assistance industry is leading other industries in jobs growth by a long way (see chart below, based on four-quarter moving averages of the original ABS data).
While we don’t have a subdivision breakdown of the Health Care and Social Assistance industry division for Queensland, the Australian data can give us some insight into the nature of growth in the sector (see chart below, also based on the most recent vintage of ABS industry employment data). Hospitals and the broader health care industry, including GPs, physios, chiropractors, and pathology labs, etc., have certainly seen strong growth over the last decade. But I was most surprised by the huge growth in Social Assistance Services. This category includes child care and non-residential aged and disability care services.
Child care employment has surged, in part, due to the adoption earlier this decade of the National Quality Framework which imposed minimum staff-to-child ratios, depending on the ages of the children at child care centres (see p. 6 of the excellent report Why Childcare is not Affordable by the CIS’s Eugenie Joseph).
In case you’re interested in the relative sizes of the different industry sectors in Queensland, here’s another facet wrap I’ve produced in the R package gglot2 (N.B. I’ve left out the three smallest industry sectors).