By Pattrick Smellie
Robots will replace baristas in cafes as part of a coming wave of job losses in service industries that will occur "at an unprecedented rate" as a massive jump in productivity caused by digital technology takes hold in the world economy, a Swedish technologist and academic, Goran Roos, told the Labour Party Future of Work conference in Auckland.
"All this hoo-ha about having a service economy is going to come back and haunt those economies very much," Roos said, predicting that jobs in service industries would start to disappear in the same way as they did in agriculture in the 19th and 20th centuries and in manufacturing in the last 30 years.
While services industries had been slower to improve their productivity than manufacturing, averaging improvements of just 0.3 percent a year, that was all about the change, said Roos.
Service sector productivity would soon be growing at around 7 to 10 percent a year, he said.
"Jobs will disappear at an unprecedented rate," he said, scything through back office jobs in areas like legal and accounting services. One example was the ability of a computer to scan thousands of pages of legal documents within minutes when the same job would take a team of paralegal workers weeks or months to perform.
Even the makers of the morning coffee would not be safe, he said, citing developments now underway in the US to automate coffee-making.
"Robots will see you arrive, make your favourite coffee and deliver it to your desk, and pay for itself in nine months."
But if the outlook for baristas is automated, the outlook for barristers will improve, Roos suggested, as people with very specialised skills would keep their jobs and probably earn more.
All the same, there was a broad consensus among future casters that by the year 2032, computerised systems would be better than people at doing most things, leaving people with hobbies rather than jobs.