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US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may think artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t going to start taking humans’ jobs for 50 to 100 years, but most experts believe a revolution in automation is coming far sooner, promising massive increases in efficiency — and job losses on a huge scale.

A recent study put out by PwC estimated that as many as 30% of UK jobs could be “susceptible to automation by robots and AI” by the early 2030s — with 38% in the US at risk, 35% in Germany, and 21% in Japan — although it believes jobs will be created elsewhere in the economy to help offset this.

Are we doing enough to prepare? Absolutely not, says Bob Moritz, global chairman of consultancy firm PwC.

“I would say no,” he told Business Insider in early March at Mobile World Congress, a major tech industry conference in Barcelona. “We actually have to do a lot better job” everywhere from educating the workforce to governments getting the right policies in place (see also: Mnuchin’s blasé attitude), as well as the role of the businesses in the process. “I think there’s more to be done there.” (We spoke before the announcement or publication of the automation research.)

But for all the doomsaying about a jobs apocalypse, what’s the worst case scenario — what happens if we don’t get our cards in order before it’s too late?

There are three “really big negative or downside implications,” Moritz says, all of which are linked:

  • Job losses: “Do you actually have the employment of the people within your cities, your towns, your countries, that are actually fit for purpose?” If you’re not careful, desirable jobs could rapidly disappear.
  • Risks to economic growth: “Are you able to get the economic growth to sustain yourself?” If these efficiency gains don’t translate into broader economic benefits, that will cause problems.
  • The threat of social unrest: “Is quality of life able to be sustained at a level that avoids potential social unrest?” A rapidly growing out-of-work population with no meaningful prospects to re-enter the workforce can have disastrous consequences.

bob moritz1“When you talk about the ultimate, if countries or cities are not addressing the needs of ‘how do I keep people employed, the needs of ‘how to grow,’ and the needs of ‘what the stakeholders want,’ you do get to that scenario of a negative growth rate, a negative balance of budget, and a poverty situation that … does not allow for the citizens of the country or the town or the city to flourish the way we want them to.”

In other words: It all falls apart.

People are split on the correct response to the looming threat. Some suggest universal basic income — an experimental form of government welfare given to all citizens — could be the answer, if sufficient new jobs aren’t created to replace those lost to automation.

Moritz says that “personally, from my perspective would be focused on training and skills” — governments and corporations pro-actively educating people with new skills. “I think that helps in either case to allow for people to have the opportunities that are in front of them … [and] also allows for them to minimise the needs for the socialisation from a welfare perspective if in fact the employment is there.”

But it’s clear that something needs to be done — likely rather sooner than Mnuchin anticipates.

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