An army of public sector automatons?

One in six public sector workers in Scotland will be replaced by robots or machines over the course of the next 15 years, a disquieting report has found.

NHS workers could be replaced by sensors and trains become driverless as automation erodes the need for a human presence on the front line of many services, research by Deloitte has found.

According to its ‘State of the State’ report as many as 90,000 human jobs could be phased out, with administrative and operational roles most at risk.

The study said technology – particularly with the advent of smart devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) – could also help the delivery of better and more efficient public services in the future. The evolution of remote monitoring devices for the elderly is already helping assisted living at home.

“The number of public sector jobs we’ve identified that may be lost to automation won’t happen overnight – it’ll be a gradual process,” said Angela Mitchell, partner and local public services lead at Deloitte.

“The most likely roles to be affected will be administrative and operative positions, which is in line with what we expect to see in other areas of the economy.

“The flipside will be that automation can complement other positions within the public sector – reducing the administrative burden and opening up the opportunity for more efficient services.”

She added: “We’re already seeing this in hospitals, for example, where sensor technology is being used to monitor vital signs, freeing up nurses to spend time interacting with patients in greater need.”

Research has already shown that 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the following 20 years, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte.

The BBC launched a nifty facility last year where you can type in your current job into a query box and an algorithm will work out quite literally if you have a future (a somewhat dispirting feature to be honest).

COSLA, the organisation representing local authorities in Scotland, responded to the report by emphasising the role of technology as ‘assistive’ rather than a substitute for human interaction.

A COSLA Spokesman said: “Whereas advances in technology will undoubtedly assist service design and management of scarce resources, much of what local authorities do is client or people centred where technology can assist but cannot replace the hands on nature of the work.

“Much has been made in the past that robots would create more leisure time for society in general but outside of the automotive industry, little of this has come to fruition.

“We are interested to note the views of a respected agency such as Deloitte but for now, let’s wait and see.”