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Men to lose battle with robots

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BT's crystal ball-gazer-in-chief is warning that machine intelligence is going to make men redundant over the next 10 or 20 years.

Ian Pearson, resplendent in the job title Futurologist, says machine intelligence is going to take over many traditionally male jobs, that is "jobs that require intellect", such as programming. These jobs will be automated, he says, leaving the male workforce without a cranial hemisphere to, er, stand on.

Women, meanwhile, with their "softer skills" (read: emotional) will still be in demand. PR, marketing and HR, he says, are much less likely to be taken over by The Machines, and nursing is probably safe too.

It is probably too tedious to even begin discussing the broad brush approach Pearson is taking to the differences between men and women. As one male PR asked us in the course of our research: "What are these soft skills I am supposed to be lacking?" Frankly, the prospect of arguing with someone who describes "intellect" as a male skill is too mind-numbing to contemplate.

So we won't. Instead, we'll peer underneath the angle, and try to work out what he is actually trying to say.

We think it can be boiled down to this: as computers become more sophisticated, many jobs will be automated. Typically, Pearson argues, these are jobs that more men than women do, therefore the workplace of the future will be a more feminine place.

"The government is aware of this trend," he insists. "The EU is looking into it, not just in terms of machine intelligence, but as a problem of globalisation and machine intelligence leading to a surplus of men. It doesn't want large numbers of unemployed men standing around on street corners. We will see lots of demonstrations"

He goes on to say that cleverer computers will of course have an impact on the whole economy - fewer programmers mean HR departments will get smaller, for instance. "Women won't have it all their own way," he told us.

Maybe there is something to this. Large portions of the workforce have been replaced by technology before, after all. So, does the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) share Mr. Pearson's concern?

Well, the short answer is that it doesn't appear to have thought much about it, which is either a really good, or a really bad sign.

A slightly baffled spokeswoman for the DWP told us that yes, the number of jobs in manufacturing was declining, but jobs in services were increasing across the board.

What about the feminisation of the work place? It seems the big trend that splits the sexes at the moment is part-time work, which typically women do more of.

However, the distinction can be "somewhat artificial," she added, because of the huge range of hours people who work part-time actually put in. Men, on the other hand, typically work full time, and put in longer hours.

The only conclusion we can come to is that if the government is worried about the Rise of the Machines (apologies to our esteemed colleague Lester Haines), it isn't saying so. ®

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