The net impact of AI and related technologies on jobs in China

AI and related technologies to boost employment in China

We estimate that AI and related technologies, such as robots, drones and autonomous vehicles could displace around 26% of existing jobs in China over the next two decades, rather higher than our 20% estimate for the UK, but could create significantly more additional jobs in China through boosting productivity and real income and spending levels. Our central estimate is that the net impact could be a boost to employment in China of around 12%, equivalent to around 90 million additional jobs over the next two decades.

Estimated job displacement and creation from AI and related technologies in China by industry sector (2017-37)

  Job displacement   Job creation   Net effect 
  % Millions % Millions % Millions
Services -21% -72 50% 169 29% 97
Construction -25% -15 48% 29 23% 14
Industry -36% -59 39% 63 3% 4
Agriculture -27% -57 16% 35 -10% -22
Total -26% -204 38% 297 12% 93

Source: PwC analysis (% figures are shown as a share of estimated employment in 2017)

Uncertain factors

Although our central estimate is that the long-term net effect of AI on jobs will be positive for China, there are many uncertain factors that could tip the balance towards a more optimistic or pessimistic scenario. There will also be considerable disruption to current labour markets as millions of workers need to switch careers and possibly locations.

Opportunities for business

There will be great opportunities for businesses from investing in AI and related technologies in China, covering all aspects of operations from marketing and product personalisation to R&D, productive efficiency, human resource processes and cyber security. But there will also be great disruption to existing business models in all parts of the economy, as we have already seen in sectors like media, entertainment, finance and retail.

No room for complacency

From both a business and a government policy perspective, our analysis therefore suggests no room for complacency. For the government, the challenge is to maximise the benefits (e.g. through implementing the Next Generation AI Plan and continuing to invest heavily in development of world class AI skills) while mitigating the costs in terms of impacts on jobs and income inequality (e.g. through retraining schemes for displaced workers and a stronger social safety net for those who find it hard to adjust to the new technologies). Only in this way can the great benefits from AI and related technologies be spread as widely as possible across society.

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James Chang

James Chang

Financial Services Consulting Leader, PwC China

Tel: +86 (10) 6533 2755

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Scott Likens

Scott Likens

Global AI and Innovation Technology Leader, PwC US

Tel: 312-286-0830