Harnessing Automation for a Future that Works

The right level of detail at which to analyze the potential impact of automation is that of individual activities rather than entire occupations.

Extract by James Manyika, Michael Chui, Mehdi Miremadi, Jacques Bughin, Katy George, Paul Willmott, and Martin Dewhurst

The right level of detail at which to analyze the potential impact of automation is that of individual activities rather than entire occupations. Every occupation includes multiple types of activity, each of which has different requirements for automation. Given currently demonstrated technologies, very few occupations—less than 5 percent—are candidates for full automation. However, almost every occupation has partial automation potential, as a proportion of its activities could be automated. We estimate that about half of all the activities people are paid to do in the world’s workforce could potentially be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. That amounts to almost $16 trillion in wages.

The activities most susceptible to automation are physical ones in highly structured and predictable environments, as well as data collection and processing. In the United States, these activities make up 51 percent of activities in the economy, accounting for almost $2.7 trillion in wages.

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