The pace of innovation is accelerating, says bank

But the impact on jobs is a question mark

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Predictions about future job growth are getting harder to make. Innovation is happening so quickly in so many areas that it's making Moore's Law look sluggish.

Moore's Law states that computing power will roughly double every two years. But advances in robotics, analytics, sensor technology, 3D printing and other technologies are "radically accelerating" this pace of innovation.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a new study, looks at the innovations ahead and quantifies what it sees as the growth rates of various technologies. But when it comes to the impact on jobs, the bank's researchers are scratching their heads like everyone else. There is worry, in this comprehensive report, that automation could upend the U.S. government's job growth estimates.

But when it comes to technology, the acceleration is clear enough. Take robots for instance: 2014 was the third consecutive record year for the sales of robots worldwide, with a 29% gain year over year. Costs have declined by 27% over the past decade and are expected to drop another 22% in the next years, the study said. (The report, as of this writing, is not available online.)

Investment in artificial intelligence was $14.9 billion last year, and is on track to grow 50% this year. Spending on the Internet of Things will double over the next five years.

"The pace of disruptive technological innovation has gone from linear to parabolic in recent years," the bank's researchers wrote.

An aging population, coupled with wage growth in China, "means demand for automation is skyrocketing," said the report.

Artificial intelligence will be a core technology for the IoT, "given the limitations of human beings to rapidly develop hypotheses to assess the large amounts of data produced by these devices," the report said. IBM's recent agreement with The Weather Company may provide further proof of this.

A.I. systems may reach "super-intelligence" in less than 30 years, meaning "any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest," as described in another paper, Future Progress in Artificial Intelligence: A Survey of Expert Opinion.

Up to half of the jobs in the U.S. may be susceptible to automation, according to a University of Oxford study that is also cited in the investment bank's report. The trend "is worrisome" because many of the jobs created in recent years have been low-paying.

The study says robotics installations will increase at a compound annual rate of 10% over the coming decade.

There is no conclusive finding whether the shift to automation will be a net plus for humanity. It has potential of hurting the labor force as manual labor jobs disappear and service jobs are replaced. One in three U.S. jobs is in administrative support jobs, retail sales or food services. But jobs will be created as well.

Integrating drone systems has potential to create 100,000 jobs by 2025, with about third high-paying. Advanced robotics will take manufacturing jobs, but the robot industry has also created upward of 10 million jobs, globally.

The rapid pace of automation may hurt U.S. labor job growth forecast in many occupations because of automation. Knowledge workers are at risk as well. Having a job that requires complex analysis and subtle judgements is no guarantee of job security. But there will be "increasing premium for jobs that require social intelligence, creativity and complex problem solving," the Bank of America Merrill Lynch study said.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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