Tomorrow Checked in Yesterday

Automation and AI – Job Threats or Possibilities or Both?

In the book “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” (Basic Books), Martin Ford, asks “Could another person learn to do your job by studying a detailed record of everything you’ve done in the past?” “Or could someone become proficient by repeating the tasks you’ve already completed, in the way that a student might take practice tests to prepare for an exam? If so, then there’s a good chance that an algorithm may someday be able to learn to do much, or all, of your job.”
Later in the book, Ford notes, “A computer doesn’t need to replicate the entire spectrum of your intellectual capability in order to displace you from your job; it only needs to do the specific things you are paid to do."
That sounds scaring and the robots are in fact already here!

Most traditional manufacturing and service jobs are at stake. Only those, that are not routine or too complex to economically or emotionally be handled by robots, will be saved or only to a limited extent be automated. However, with more and more advanced automation using AI (Artificial Intelligence) the limits of what is too complex are continuously extended.

On the other hand, the transition from manual work to automated manufacturing has been going on since the early nineteenth century, when textile mills were beginning to take over from hand spinning and weaving. After that, each new technology displaced a new cast of workers, but as one occupation vanished, another came into being. Employment migrated from farms and mills to factories and offices to cubicles and call centers. The result was that more people than ever had some occupation!

So why worry?

The difference today is the speed of change. The industrial revolution took almost a couple of hundred years and the society was able to develop in parallel although sometimes under big turbulence. The AI revolution may take just 20 years from now and about half of all jobs may disappear according to a report from Oxford University (Frey, C. B. och M. A. Osborne (2013) The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?, September 17, 2013. University of Oxford) and a Swedish sequel. Some sectors may even be eradicated or at least reduced to almost nothing.
Will our society cope with that?
I think - YES, but there are a few important conditions:

  1. We must understand that the AI revolution is a fact which cannot be denied or relativized.
  2. We must accept that it will happen whether we like it or not and take measures.
  3. We must promote innovation much more effectively than today.
  4. Some tough political decisions are required as Sweden must remain a modern and attractive country to live in. Please see this link for details.

What is AI?

To be able to understand the impact of AI on our current jobs we must understand what AI is.
The definition of AI is according to Encyclopedia Britannica: Artificial intelligence (AI), the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.
Another important concept we must know is Machine learning which means that “a system can learn to take own decisions based on data that has been collected” or according to Arthur Samuel ( "the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed".

How will our jobs be affected?

Let’s briefly analyze, which jobs are most likely to disappear when AI and machine learning are deployed.

  1. Almost all traditional manufacturing jobs will disappear, especially in high volume manufacturing but also in low volume manufacturing due to 3D-printing. The upside is, that manufacturing can be done everywhere and the need to outsource to low-income countries will vanish. More local factories will reduce the need for transport of goods, which is good for the environment and may make up for some additional local costs. Availability of good quality and cheap electricity will be an advantage because electricity is the most important source of energy in the future for manufacturing. Remaining jobs in this sector are design and construction of factories, advanced maintenance of equipment and buildings, supervision and control of the manufacturing process including quality and logistics. Probably, there will be more such advanced jobs than today in Sweden and other Western countries due to more production will be taken home, but still overall much fewer jobs in manufacturing. All remaining jobs in manufacturing will be high-skilled. Simple manufacturing jobs for low-skilled workers will not exist. Already today lots of low skilled jobs in Swedish manufacturing are either automated or outsourced because those who are not good enough in language and education are not worth the wages in Sweden. An educated staff is a requirement to be competitive while the low educated staff is too expensive.
    1. The current number of manufacturing jobs in Sweden: 525,000 (The extensive automation and high cost of labor in Swedish manufacturing industry, have already made 100,000 jobs disappear since 2008.)
    2. Estimated decrease next 20 years due to further automation: 400,000
    3. Future number of manufacturing jobs: 125,000 (Mainly high skilled)
    4. Comment: Swedish manufacturing industry has many employees abroad. E.g. the 28 biggest Groups have 600,000 employees abroad. Many of those are of course marketing, R&D, and admin type of staff, but if Sweden becomes attractive for manufacturing due to factors like a good environment (e.g. good quality electricity, fresh water, efficient transport), an attractive culture (e.g. educated and reliable staff), and a supportive tax system (e.g. lower and more adapted tax), then some manufacturing will be moved back to Sweden and new factories opened too. All manufacturing will certainly not be brought back home because of usual requirements for local production, but at least a substantial part to make up for not losing more than 400,000 jobs.
  2. Handicraft will still exist and probably be evaluated higher and thus giving work to more people. In this group, we also have artists, actors, and other cultural workers like journalists and authors, media workers and workers at sports facilities and similar services. Therefore a small decrease in the number of jobs will happen. However, with an increasing economy and people having more money to spend, new jobs may be created to compensate for the loss.
    1. Current number of such jobs in Sweden: 160,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to automation: 20,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 140,000
    4. Comment: An expanding tourist industry may create an increase in jobs that will well compensate the loss but that requires Sweden to keep or even improve its attractiveness to foreign tourists. It’s a firm requirement that the Swedish economy continues to expand in real terms.
  3. Other industry like farming, forestry, fishing, mining, paper, wood, steel, water, electricity, waste etc. have already been automated a lot but this trend will continue and the number of jobs will decrease even if the economy may expand.
    1. Current number of jobs in Sweden: 120,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to further automation: 90,000 (We lost 45,000 jobs between 2007 and 2015 in paper, wood, steel, and chemistry partly also due to less volume caused by diminishing export.)
    3. Future number of jobs: 30,000
    4. Comment: In Sweden, there is already more farms than there are farmers. Forestry, farming, and mining are already using many machines that are remotely controlled, so the step to introduce AI is low. Plant operators of all kinds will just have a supervisory role.
  4. Construction employs many people and is together with restaurants and hotels the only group which also has a large number of low skilled workers. Construction is, however, very sensitive to the economic situation and currently, Sweden is in a boom. If this continues and we are able to convert a large number of low skilled black jobs to white jobs, then this will counteract the decrease. Please see this link for a discussion of this problem. Unfortunately, most of the converted low skilled jobs will be automated too, so the net contribution will be rather insignificant. If we run into a recession, then there will be many unemployed in this sector. In this area, Swedish workers also compete with foreign workers. There are officially 30,000 workers from abroad due to subcontracting. Most of them are specialists.
    1. Current number of construction jobs in Sweden: 300,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to automation: 100,000. (Additional job loss in case of a recession: 50,000)
    3. Future number of construction jobs: 200,000
    4. Comment: A firm requirement for no loss or even an increase, is that the Swedish economy grows in real terms so we can afford big investments in infrastructure, buildings, and homes. For that to happen the conditions expressed above must be fulfilled. More use of pre-fabricated modules will, however, have some negative impact on job opportunities but a general expansion may offset this reduction.
  5. Transport workers, especially drivers, will disappear almost altogether due to self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles. Local truck transport for the construction industry will most likely still be done by people, while local delivery of e-commerce goods will be done with drones or small cars (PODs). Only a limited numbers of supervisors will remain. This will affect long-haul truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, train drivers and eventually even pilots and sailors. I also include Logistics workers in this group. All warehouses will be automated and no store-men will be needed, only supervisors. Trucks can be unloaded and loaded automatically. Route planning will be automatic by AI.
    1. Current number of transport jobs in Sweden: 230,000 (130,000 in transport and 100,000 in logistics)
    2. Estimated decrease due to automation: 150,000
    3. Future number of transport and logistics jobs: 80,000
    4. Comment: The decrease in the number of jobs will not happen overnight, but as soon as self-driving vehicles are available and allowed by regulators, the transition will be fast. My guess is 10 years from now. The remaining jobs are mainly administrators and truck drivers for local heavy transport. This will happen regardless of whether the economy grows or not as this is an international trend and the advantages are irresistible.
  6. Maintenance and especially Preventive Maintenance in combination with IoT (Internet of Things) will use AI to detect malfunctions before they are affecting the operation. These jobs are included in the other groups and therefore not estimated separately. Due to better planning and reporting tools, the number of jobs for a given task will decrease, but due to many more complicated and advanced machines, the number of skilled maintenance engineers will increase.
  7. Newspaper distributors and postmen will disappear due to digitalizing. All information will be distributed over the Internet and this has already started to happen. Most newspapers and magazines have an e-edition, alternative media are mostly digital, invoices are digital, letters are replaced by e-mail and SMS, and various message apps, postcards are replaced by social media, etc. A few advertisement distributors and special delivery companies may remain.
    1. Current number of distribution jobs in Sweden: 33,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to digitalizing: 30,000
    3. Future number of (physical) distribution jobs: 3,000
  8. Office workers will still be required but their jobs will be different and probably more advanced. Do you remember the typists and the secretaries? The future personal assistant will probably be digital (like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana) and available to every office worker. This category of jobs is included in the figures of the other sectors. Even in a constant economy, the number of office workers will decrease and the only way to somewhat compensate the loss of jobs is to expand the economy. Efficiency will also be higher due to less physical meetings and less travel. Remote working from homes or cafés will be common. Most functions will be supported by AI, some examples:
    1. Customer Service will use chatbots, and so will Human Resources in addition to advanced analysis software. Fewer people will be needed.
    2. Marketing will be based on data analysis by AI systems to identify leads, and makeup strategies, and analyze salespersons' achievements. Manual market data analysis will almost disappear but data laundering by experts may still be required before AI is used for the final analysis.
    3. Accounting will continue to be more and more supported by digital and AI means. Most routine work will be replaced by automation.
    4. Banking and Insurance will use AI for Fraud Management. It has already reduced e.g. credit card frauds with up to 70% for a payment company. Self-service and Internet banking are already established and will be used everywhere. Most staff will be administrators, supervisors, and advisers.
    5. Lawyers will use Legal Robots as adviser to navigate complex legal contracts.
    6. Journalists and everyone who write texts will use AI tools to check not only spelling but also grammar and context, making any writer much more efficient and writing better texts. The research will also be supported by AI. Some articles may even be altogether written by robots, especially if lots of research are required. This article could probably have been written by a robot!
  9. Consultants in law, economy, science, and technology will use AI support to a large extent and become more efficient, but their services will be even more important and asked for in the “AI society”. This will increase the number of such jobs slightly. In case of an expanding economy the increase will be greater.
    1. Current number of such jobs: 270,000
    2. Increase due to AI: 10,000 jobs
    3. Future number of consultants: 280,000
    4. Comment: This group contains the architects of the AI society and is therefore one of the real winners.
  10. Retail (including durables) and wholesale and service shops for cars will use AI for warehousing and customer support. Most likely many shops will disappear due to e-commerce and possibly be replaced by showrooms but not all. Store personnel will still be required but to a lesser extent and they probably have to be more skilled and able to provide advice. Cashiers will be replaced by self-checkout or even automatic checkout.
    1. Current number of retail and wholesale jobs in Sweden: 550,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to automation and e-commerce: 200,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 350,000
    4. Comment: The decrease is mainly due to fewer shops and less need of logistics personnel in shops and warehouses. A considerable number of jobs will be created in e-commerce but not enough to make up for the loss of jobs in physical stores. Car service will also require fewer people when electric cars and more modularity of control equipment are dominating. Self-driving cars will also (hopefully) reduce the number of accidents and thus the need to repair. An expanding economy may offset the decrease to some extent.
  11. Restaurants and hotels are not usually regarded as being at risk of automation, but many jobs at fast food restaurants can be replaced by robots. Some examples are: 1) Preparation of food like Hamburgers and Pizza but also more complicated meals, even meals made to provide the individual with the best nutrition. A home cooking robot is said to be able to prepare 100 different meals. 2) Automated ordering and payment and even food delivery to the table. 3) Restaurant logistics and supervision of freshness. 4) Cleaning and washing up.
    1. Current number of restaurant and hotel jobs in Sweden: 150,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to automation: 110,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 40,000
    4. Comment: Fast food restaurants will most likely be automated to a large extent and such jobs will decrease in number. With an expanding economy and population there will be a demand for more personal types of restaurants like bistros and restaurants for “fine dining”. Therefore the total number of jobs may be considerably more than estimated above. In case of a deep recession the job loss may be even worse.
  12. Finance and banking and insurance will be highly affected by automation and AI. With Internet banking, self-service, the almost cashless society, chatbots for advice etc. most current banking jobs are at risk. More than half of the jobs will disappear.
    1. Current number of jobs in Sweden: 85,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to automation and AI: 45,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 40,000
    4. Comment: Even an expanding economy will not help much though it will compensate for some loss.
  13. IT and communication will thrive in the AI revolution. Many IT specialists (100,000) work in any of the other groups and they are thus included in their figures. All jobs in this group are highly skilled.
    1. Current number of IT jobs in Sweden: 215,000
    2. Estimated increase due to automation and AI: 100,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 315,000
    4. Comment: Most of the new jobs are in software and system engineering and will require education at university level. Already now there are 30,000 open IT positions so a big problem will be to find 100,000 more. Such jobs are highly qualified and require many years of education. Import of workers may be the only solution.
  14. Other services include real estate, building administration and maintenance, renting, travel services, gardening, and lots of others. Many of them will be replaced by robots, self-service, and AI supported new ways of providing the service. Possibly new types of jobs will emerge to compensate for some lost jobs.
    1. Current number of such jobs in Sweden: 420,000
    2. Estimated decrease due to automation and AI: 200,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 220,000
    4. Comment: As this group contains lots of smaller job categories, it is difficult to estimate the impact of automation. It is likely that new types of jobs are invented. To create many new jobs an expanding economy is required.
  15. Public Servants will still be required but they will also use AI for many support functions. This group includes government, municipal, and county administrators, employed politicians, library staff, the police, the military and the Swedish Church. Schools and health care are not included in this group but are separate groups (Please see below). There are great opportunities to rationalize their work and make public services much more efficient, but for political reasons, it is unlikely that the number will decrease substantially.
    1. Current number of jobs in Sweden: 221,000
    2. Estimated increase due to greater need of certain categories: 20,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 241,000
    4. Comment: It is proposed to increase the number of policemen with 10,000 and probably even more will be required. The military organization must also be increased. With a larger population more administrators may be needed but instead efficiency should be increased by means of AI.
  16. Healthcare and Care of Old People will make extensive use of AI to diagnose various diseases. Automation and robotics will support certain functions like 1) Remote patient monitoring, 2) Telehealth/Doctor online, 3) AI to assess patients’ health, 4) Logistics using robots. However, personal assistance to disabled, cleaning, and making up of beds are examples of jobs which seem difficult to automate.
    A lot of people want to believe that the 'care' part of healthcare isn't as easily automated and plenty of IT experts anticipate job safety for careers requiring emotional intelligence (EQ). Ian Pearson, leading futurologist of Futurizon and fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Science, is one of those experts. "AI and robots can automate intellectual and physical tasks, but they won't be human, and some tasks require the worker to be human", said Pearson in a Futurizon blog. "A human will always be able to identify with another human on an emotional level better than a robot can." According to Pearson, humans aren't only better in EQ fields like therapy, but patients also prefer humans over robots to fill these roles. Perhaps he is right.
    1. Current number of health care jobs in Sweden: 950,000
    2. Estimated increase in spite of automation and AI: 0 (New methods will make current staff more efficient.)
    3. Future number of jobs: 950,000
    4. Comment: Although AI and robots may make healthcare staff more efficient and able to work with what they are educated for, there is a demand for more people in this group that will compensate for lost jobs. This is mainly due to an increasing number of elderly people, which cannot be taken care of in their homes by relatives only, but also due to a growing population.
  17. Schools and universities will use AI to support the learning process and identify how well the pupils perform in order to provide best and possibly individual support. This will be built-in to the digital learning tools.
    1. Current number of education jobs in Sweden: 430,000 (including 75,000 at universities and 65,000 administrators)
    2. Estimated increase: 30,000
    3. Future number of jobs: 460,000
    4. Comment: Some administration jobs may be eliminated due to AI, but the increase depends on the large immigration of children and low educated people. We already miss 7,000 teachers. At least half of the immigrants will need extensive school education to be able to get a job in Sweden, everyone will need to learn Swedish. Assuming we keep the current pupils/teacher ratio of 12, then 20,000 new teachers will be able to teach 240,000 pupils, which may be a reasonable estimate of the number of new pupils. Because there is a lack of trained teachers already and it takes time to educate more, the only working solution would be to use more digital tools so that the pupils/teacher ration can be increased without affecting quality. The Swedish school system must also be profoundly rebuilt. Please see A Slippery Slope for a discussion about Swedish education.

General Comments

Common for all work categories is, except for very few low skilled jobs in construction, restaurants, and gardening, that almost all workers in the future must be skilled and in fact at a higher level than today. Sweden has today about 250,000 low skilled jobs mainly in construction, restaurants, and cleaning. At least half of them will be replaced by robots and very few new low skilled jobs will be created. With heavy subsidies some new work opportunities may be created now when Sweden is in a boom, but what happens when we are hit by a recession? We have a very big problem to provide real jobs to the many low skilled immigrants Sweden has got during the last 10 years. Please see A Pipe Dream for a discussion about that.

Most economists agree that automation and globalization have made low skilled workers less competitive in rich countries, but increased competitiveness for certain groups of well-educated people. New jobs for the low or medium skilled people may meet a limited private will to pay for them. Certain jobs like preschool teachers, home assistance, and cooks need to be subsidized or paid by the state because people can do such jobs themselves without paying tax.

A job category which will grow in importance and number is Data Scientist. Lots of System Designers and Analysts will also be needed as well as Programmers and Software engineers. As they also use AI to support their work, it will be more important for them to be specialists in their respective profession than in software and computer science, except for those designing AI and machine learning systems.

We will also need more teachers and more nurses, which is a real problem as there is already a shortage of qualified teachers and nurses. It takes time to educate enough many and the number of places at universities is limited. In the police case, not even the available education positions can be filled as there are not enough applicants.

A big complication with introducing AI in certain businesses like banking and healthcare and everywhere where personal data is used is the protection of personal data. Early adopters have already run into difficulties:
Current regulation and laws may have to be changed and that process may delay the AI introduction.

Summary of the Job Situation

Today there are 5.2 million jobs in Sweden. We have analyzed 4.65 million of these jobs and the conclusion is that about 1.15 million jobs will disappear due to AI and Automation if the Swedish economy does not grow and currently we have very little real growth. A possible recession will make things even worse and we can expect an additional loss of 250,000 jobs due to the recession alone according to recent estimates. Together with AI, and automation we may lose 1.4 million jobs during the next 20 years.

This is still better than “Half of all jobs” as predicted in the report from Strategiska Forskningsstiftelsen. The main reason for the difference is that I have tried to weight in some human and emotional factors, such as “we may want to talk to real people instead of only robots when shopping” and “we would prefer to be served by a human waiter in a fine restaurant”. Another reason is that I have included schools, health care, and public servants, which sectors will not be affected so much by automation and AI.
However, Losing 1,150,000 jobs of 4,650,000 (~25%) is bad enough and the only way to compensate for this in a sustainable way is to expand the Swedish economy through innovation and hard work! For that to happen the politicians must take difficult decisions in order to make Sweden modern again.
Losing so many jobs raises both the question whether we can afford this and the question of how to design the tax system. Currently, most of the tax is at work and if too few people work and have an income and the rest will need social benefits, the country’s economy will be in trouble!

I see 2 scenarios:

  1. We and our politicians don't do anything. This will mean that about 3.5 million workers of which only about 2 million are privately employed (~3.5 M today) will have to support a total population of at least 11 million people (10 million today). AI and automation cannot be avoided because our export products must be competitive. If our export is not competitive, we will not be able to provide for ourselves as a country, as e.g. we import more than half of our food, and all our oil for transport and chemical industry, and farming and forestry. Even if the productivity of the working part of the population goes up due to automation, it is not realistic to believe it can be more than doubled, so that each commercially employed worker can support and feed more than 4 other people at a standard of living equal to the one we have today. It is not possible to increase taxes much more as Sweden already has among the highest taxes in the world. The result of this scenario is that we must reduce our standard of living drastically in all aspects!
  2. We and our politicians take the measures stated at the beginning of this article:
    We must promote innovation much more effectively than today and some tough political decisions are required for Sweden to remain a modern and attractive country to live in.

    If that is done, we may both create substantially more jobs and increase productivity so we have a chance to keep our standard of living and perhaps even improve it.

I know which scenario I prefer!

Do all experts agree that AI and automation will be a problem? No, they don’t. Take a look here for more information.


The USA added 126,000 jobs in manufacturing since November 2016. Scaled to Sweden that would have been +4000 jobs. What is the actual Swedish figure?