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Oxford researchers predict automisation of nearly half of household chores within next decade

Recent collaborative research from the University of Oxford and Japan’s Ochanomizu University conveys that almost four in ten hours currently devoted to unpaid housework and caring responsibilities could be automated in the next ten years. 

During the project, researchers from the universities asked 65 Artificial Intelligence experts (29 from the UK and 36 from Japan) to predict trends in the future automation of common household tasks.

On average, experts agreed that grocery shopping is the most automatable household activity. They predict that grocery shopping time in the future would fall by nearly 60% in 10 years, in comparison to current statistics. On the other hand, experts believe that care for children or the elderly is the least likely to be impacted by AI; with research suggesting that time spent on physical childcare would only be reduced by 21%.

According to Dr Lulu Shi, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer for the Oxford Internet Institute: “[O]nly 28% of care work, including activities such as teaching your child, accompanying your child, or taking care of an elderly family member, was predicted to be automated. Yet 44% of housework, including cooking, cleaning, and shopping, was thought to be automatable.”

Strikingly, previous studies have highlighted that the UK’s population, aged 15 to 64, spends nearly 50% of their entire work and study time on household errands such as cleaning, cooking and care. However, the recent research suggests a potential increase in the prospect of leisure time, due to the fact that there would be less to do manually around the house.

To this day, the burden of undertaking household labour has fallen disproportionately on women. Ekaterina Hertog, an associate professor in AI and Society at the University of Oxford argues that this has negatively affected women’s earning ability, savings and pensions.

Evidence illustrates that in the UK, the majority of working age men do around half as much of domestic (unpaid) housework as the majority of working age women. In Japan, using the same parameters, the men do just 18%, which is less than a fifth.

Having increased automation and more “smart homes” would therefore also free up working time for women, and could lead to strides which help achieve gender equality. However, technology is still relatively expensive and more extensive and diverse research is needed to be undertaken.

The complete research is published in the journal PLOS ONE. This research project was funded by ESRC in the UK and JST-RISTEX in Japan.

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