AI could displace up to 8 million jobs in the UK

08 April 2024 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

A new study into the impacts of AI suggests that some 8 million jobs in the UK could be displaced by the impacts of the technology. While CEO roles are somehow untouched by this, the report suggests that redistributive economic policies may be necessary to maintain social cohesion, following the large-scale loss of most roles outside manual labourers, AI-proofers, and technical specialists.

With scrutiny into the pay of top executives once again creeping into the news, it is conspicuous how little is being said of the ability of artificial intelligence to replace chief executive officers. The most expensive member of a firm’s staff is often the one whose impacts on a company are most difficult to quantify – and a number of CEOs are increasingly conscious that the jig may be up. To that end, a poll by edX in late 2023 found that close to half of CEOs in the US were now worried that AI could soon take their jobs.

Just as they might be losing sleep, however, a new study in the UK has sought to give the corporate world’s best paid under-performers peace of mind. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), while some 8 million jobs in the UK could be euphemistically ‘displaced’ by AI in the coming period, CEOs were among the group which could expect close to no disruption. And that without redistributive government intervention, they could end up sitting on top of an even larger mound of money than before.

AI could displace up to 8 million jobs in the UK

Source: IPPR analysis of ONET (2023) and ONS (2023)

Alongside CEOs, the IPPR also asserted that hire services managers and proprietors, directors in consultancy services, and information technology directors also had no exposure to automation by GPT4 (the current generation of AI). This means that the researchers concluded CEOs and top-brass across a number of other business segments have as many automatable tasks as aircraft pilots, and specialist medical practitioners.

So where are the 8 million job cuts going to come from? According to IPPR – and many other professional services firms before the think-tank – a big chunk of it will be non-repetitive cognitive and analytical tasks.

Making up about 20% of the tasks worked in the UK economy, things like journalism, fiction writing, and illustration, face around an 8% ‘exposure’ to losing work to current generation generative AI – rising to 72% when factoring in ‘integrated AI’. Similarly, organisational and strategy tasks – middle-management roles – are 78% automatable in the long-term, while repetitive cognitive and analytical tasks (administration often given to entry-level employees beginning their careers at consulting firms, for example) could see a 70% exposure.  

AI could displace up to 8 million jobs in the UK

Source: IPPR analysis of ONET (2023) and ONS (2023)

What will be left will be manual operational and technical tasks (which could face 10% exposure to integrated AI), and interpersonal communications tasks (facing a 40% long-term threat). So, the workforce of tomorrow may well be split solely between manual labour, or call-centre work – if the IPPR is correct – as well as some AI-heavy forms of those former roles, in which human labour simply helps proof-read the content AI churns out.

Of course, the findings might be taken with a pinch of salt. Putting its most apocalyptic predictions in terms of ‘integrated AI’ essentially means these changes would unfold under a form of the technology that few employers are even capable of realising yet. In the intervening period, however, the IPPR has suggested that if the market is left to shift AI in a direction that ‘re-aligns’ the workforce away from mid-salary creative roles and into a shrinking number of AI-centred clicking operations or manual labour, if they expect to maintain social cohesion, governments will need to look into mechanisms beyond the usually touted option of educating the workforce to fit into the new order.

The report concludes that while there are “potentially large gains from the deployment of generative AI” – as much as 12% boost to GDP in the 'integrated' AI scenario, there is “no guarantee that these will be equally shared”. As a result, the researchers echo OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who “called for a wealth tax” which might redistribute the wealth created to those displaced by the technological changes. At the same time, then, they added that “social security assistance might also have to evolve in order to help attenuate any disruptive effects that might occur from fast or unexpectedly large labour market impacts of generative AI.”