29 January 2020
Nearly 30 percent of Hong Kong's 3.7 million jobs are at risk of becoming redundant because of automation, according to a recent study. Photo: Reuters
Nearly 30 percent of Hong Kong's 3.7 million jobs are at risk of becoming redundant because of automation, according to a recent study. Photo: Reuters

Are journos easier to be replaced by robots than bean counters?

Who are more at risk of losing their jobs to robots: accountants or journalists?

This should be a no-brainer. The Big Four accounting firms in Hong Kong are hiring thousands of fresh graduates every year, but I am not sure if the struggling media sector can take in that many young and eager talents.

Both are demanding professions that require long working hours, tenacity, discipline, and talent. But it is hard to keep talents in both fields because their skill sets and experience usually open doors to other, probably more rewarding – if not more interesting – opportunities.

But a recent study by the One Country, Two Systems Research Institute appears to dispute this perception.

The pro-Beijing think tank said accountants and auditors, along with secretaries, face a 70 percent chance of being replaced by machines in 20 years.

The study, which was conducted in collaboration with a University of Oxford researcher (which makes it a product of “two countries, two systems”), also said journalists, along with doctors, nurses, teachers and architects, are less likely to be replaced by robots because their jobs require a higher level of creativity and social intelligence.

Well, people may think journalism is a highly creative job because of the proliferation of fake news nowadays, but what is indisputable is that it requires huge amounts of social intelligence because journos have to deal with all sorts of people, especially those who have skeletons in their closets or those who simply don’t like people shoving microphones or cameras in their faces.

If journalism is just a matter of writing reports in set forms, constructing sentences or correcting grammar, then perhaps some of the jobs in the newsroom may be replaced over time.

But when it comes to evaluating events and statements, determining which are significant or hogwash, analyzing them in relation to past events and statements, determining their probable implications and repercussions, and presenting all those facts and possibilities in a coherent form that the reader or viewer will understand and appreciate – well, I deeply doubt if a robot can do those things in 20 years.

According to the study, nearly 30 percent of the city’s 3.7 million jobs are at risk of becoming redundant because of automation.

That’s more than a million people either having to find a new profession or applying for social welfare by 2038.

A study by the accounting firm PwC last year also had a similar finding, suggesting that some 38 percent of the jobs in the United States could be at risk being lost to artificial intelligence by early 2030.

But one guy who doesn’t believe that accountants can be replaced by robots is lawmaker Kenneth Leung, who represents the accountancy profession in the Legislative Council.

Says he: “In our profession, we have to make a lot of judgments in serving our customers. Artificial intelligence can help, but it will not be able to make a final judgment.”

I support his view. Journalists can be kicked out or replaced, as seen in many restructuring exercises by major media outlets in these difficult times.

But that’s not because their job can be replaced by robots; it’s more a consequence of poor sales.

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EJ Insight writer