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Smart systems will erase jobs, report warns

Industrial jobs were the first ones eliminated by technology in large numbers. Service jobs are next.

So-called smart applications will soon cause more job losses than outsourcing, and policymakers will need to tread cautiously to minimize the effect of this new trend, a new report warns.

In the coming years, a large number of first-level jobs in service industries related to customer service, help desk and directory assistance will be lost due to the advent of intelligent systems, research firm Strategy Analytics said in the report.

This wave of job losses will follow the elimination of as many as 10 million jobs involving physical labor and repetitive activities that were wiped out in the last 10 years as machines began to replace humans, the report noted.

During the same period, there was a cumulative investment of $100 billion in robotics and supporting systems. Today, nearly 1 million robots are in operation in manufacturing and service sectors globally.

In the United States alone, there was an erosion of 50 percent blue-collar jobs due to automation, robotics and information technology between 1969 and 1999.

According to Harvey Cohen, who authored the study, another threat is yet to emerge. For a growing segment of the work force with midrange skills, the further expansion of intelligent systems into capabilities involving decision making, advisory functions, identification and analytical functions will mean further limiting of job potential.

"While these systems are not likely to replace humans altogether," he noted, "they will become capable of shifting the mix of personnel required to support a given level of business or activity, thus reducing the total number of people required."