39% of time spent on chores could be automated in 10 years

The experts predicted the most automatable task to be grocery shopping (59%), and the least to be physical childcare (21%).
Deena Theresa
A robot serving tea.
A robot serving tea.


Over the last decade, we've been hearing a lot of 'ifs' and 'will' about robots stealing our jobs. After the advent of OpenAI's chatbot ChatGPT and Microsoft's new Bing AI, the 'ifs' turned to 'when'. 

And now, an interesting study published in PLOS ONE on February 22, 2023, confirms our worst fears. Or does it? A team led by Ekaterina Hertog, an Associate Professor of AI and Society at the University of Oxford, and colleagues in Japan, conducted a survey and found that 39 percent of the time is currently being spent on unpaid domestic work.

This very work will be the one being stolen by robots.

Fine by me!

Automation could reduce time spent on housework and care work tasks by 39 percent

Though working-age men spend only half as much time as working women on the same work, only a handful of studies have examined automation concerning unpaid domestic work, or how predictions about automation really differ depending on the AI experts consulted, as per the release.

Twenty-nine male and female AI experts from the UK and 36 experts from Japan were asked to estimate how automatable 17 housework and care work tasks could be over the next 10 years.

"Our study with technology experts in the UK and Japan find that in 10 years’ time domestic automation could reduce the amount of time spent on current housework and care work tasks by 39 percent," the authors said.

The experts predicted the most automatable task to be grocery shopping (59 percent), and the least automatable task to be physical childcare (21 percent). 

UK male AI experts and Japanese AI female more optimistic about automation

And, UK-based experts believed that automation might replace more domestic labor (42 percent) than Japanese experts (36 percent). According to the authors, this could be because of the higher association of technology with labor replacement in the UK than in Japan.

Previous studies had found that male experts were more optimistic about domestic automation than female experts; this study produced the same results in the case of UK experts but reversed it for Japanese experts.

Female experts in Japan were slightly more optimistic and the authors think it could be attributed to the Japanese gender disparity in households.

The authors caution that the study's diverse sample does not statistically represent the field and is too small to generalize the findings to all AI experts.


Study Abstract:

 The future of work has become a prominent topic for research and policy debate. However, the debate has focused entirely on paid work, even though people in industrialized countries on average spend comparable amounts of time on unpaid work. The objectives of this study are therefore (1) to expand the future of work debate to unpaid domestic work and (2) to critique the main methodology used in previous studies. To these ends, we conducted a forecasting exercise in which 65 Al experts from the UK and Japan estimated how automatable are 17 housework and care work tasks. Unlike previous studies, we applied a sociological approach that considers how experts' diverse backgrounds might shape their estimates. On average our experts predicted that 39 percent of the time spent on a domestic task will be automatable within ten years. Japanese male experts were notably pessimistic about the potential of domestic automation, a result we interpret through gender disparities in the Japanese household. Our contributions are providing the first quantitative estimates concerning the future of unpaid work and demonstrating how such predictions are socially contingent, with implications for forecasting methodology.

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