The numbers are in: robots are starting to replace humans working in factories and other manual jobs. But will they ever replace white-collar workers?
Fred Destin, former general partner at Accel and currently raising his own seed fund, predicted that automation will wipe out up to 70% of white-collar roles, pointing to legal and insurance firms in particular.
“The next wave will destroy white-collar jobs at speed and at scale,” he said, speaking at The Europas conference in London. “There’s a giant tsunami of societal change.”
Destin gave one anecdote from his time at Deliveroo. Destin was the food delivery startup’s lead investor while at Accel.
He talked about an automation exercise by Deliveroo’s CTO, Mike Hudack, who joined from Facebook late last year.
According to Destin, Hudack used automation to make Deliveroo’s ordering process more efficient. The startup refers to live orders as “orders in flight,” and Hudack specifically looked at the number of times Deliveroo has contact with an order, from the moment a customer puts in a request for food through to the moment it’s delivered by a driver. Through automation, Deliveroo reduced that number “by 98%” — making 25 people redundant in the process.
No one actually got fired, he added, but the project highlighted the risk automation and machine learning poses even to technical jobs. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, let me apply what we just did at scale,'” he said.
March figures from PwC suggest Destin is probably right about automation destroying jobs, though the actual numbers are more conservative. PwC found 32% of financial and insurance jobs are currently at risk from automation. That’s still a higher percentage of jobs than most other industries, but lower than areas like manufacturing, where 46% of jobs are at risk, and waste management, where 63% of jobs are at risk.
The point of Destin’s message? Anyone working in tech needs to take better responsibility for the disruption they cause. “We have not been citizens as technologists, we live in this otherworldly sphere where we understand the future. It’s super important we start thinking as citizens,” he said. “We need to think about the rest of the world who don’t have a fucking clue what’s happening, and have no tools to deal with the future.”