A new report by the right-leaning thinktank Reform, predicts that nearly 250,000 UK public-sector jobs could be lost to robots over the next 15 years. They said such a move would increase efficiency and save as much as £4bn annually, by replacing as many as 90 percent of Whitehall administrators with “chat bots,” and tens of thousands in NHS and GP’s surgeries, by 2030. These changes could even affect doctors and nurses, according to the report, which says that AI can outperform human medical staff at some diagnoses and routine surgeries. The report also pointed out that these robots often collect information more efficiently than humans.
The report makes the argument that public services should embrace a new and more flexible approach to labor in which workers cobble together a variety of “gig economy” jobs through online platforms. A press release from Reform said “public services can become the next Uber, using the gig economy to employ locum doctors and supply teachers.”
The report suggests that most complex public service roles could someday be filled by computers, suggesting a “diamond-shaped” arrangement, in which both “strategic and frontline” service roles could be best filled by robots.
“Twenty percent of public-sector workers hold strategic, ‘cognitive’ roles,” according to the report. “They will use data analytics to identify patterns – improving decision-making and allocating workers most efficiently.”
“The NHS, for example, can focus on the highest risk patients, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions. UK police and other emergency services are already using data to predict areas of greatest risk from burglary and fire.”
These “contingent labor” models could work well for schools, hospitals, and organizations with seasonal fluctuations in the demand for labor. The report suggests moving towards a more private sector-style organization style, with “shared kitchens and feedback boards [that will] enable the spontaneous interactions that will support a new culture of public service innovation.”
The report also details the need for increased automation in law enforcement by way of crowd-monitoring drones and facial recognition technology. However it did recognize privacy concerns over collecting people’s images.
One of the coauthors of the report, Alexander Hitchcock, said:
“Such a rapid advance in the use of technology may seem controversial, and any job losses must be handled sensitively. But the result would be public services that are better, safer, smarter and more affordable.”