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Automation invasion 'threatening' white collar society

10 December, 2014

Automation threatens nearly half a million largely white collar jobs – including supermarket cashiers, secretaries, typists and bank tellers – new Department of Industry modelling has shown.

However fear robots and artificial intelligence would cast multitudes from the middle class into unemployment were "overblown", said the department's chief economist Mark Cully.

"The fact a large range of relatively high-skilled jobs were likely to be lost only supported the need for Australians and governments to embrace structural change that guarantees economic growth and prosperity," he said.

"One of the greatest benefits of increased automation – even if its temporary impact on jobs is painful – was that it would lead to higher productivity, and eventually cheaper goods and higher disposable incomes.

"Just as it did during the Industrial Revolution, when the invention of the loom led to waves of unemployed weavers but cheaper clothing for the masses."

The modelling was published in the inaugural Australian Industry Report 2014. The report also found occupations most at risk included clerks, bookkeepers, and even highly qualified professions like pharmacists.

"A tertiary education, therefore, does not guarantee a safeguard against automation," Cully said.

Cully said the safest jobs were those where advanced tertiary education was not a prerequisite – among them truck drivers, electricians and waiters – though the findings should not deter people from getting a good tertiary education.

"We don't know what the future holds."

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