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article imageOp-Ed: How should we react to robots taking our jobs?

By Tim Sandle     Oct 15, 2017 in Business
There's no doubting the employment trajectory: robots will replace humans for many different tasks at the workplace. Will this lead to new forms of work and new opportunities or will it lead to greater societal polarization?
Earlier in 2017 the accountancy firm PwC reported on a survey that found robotics and artificial intelligence could affect almost a third of jobs in advanced economies by the 2030s. In particular the "more manual, routine jobs" which "can effectively be programmed" were deemed to be the most at risk.
What does this mean for future employment? The PwC report inferred that automation could create more wealth and additional jobs elsewhere in the economy, with no major shifts in employment numbers. Others fear a growing level of future unemployment and the problems created by meaningful activity.
Contradictory futures
The predictive data is contradictory and this hampers policy making. On one hand, almost half of jobs are vulnerable according to Oxford university academics Michael Osborne and Carl Frey. The researchers used novel methodology to estimate the probability of computerization for 702 detailed occupations, using a Gaussian process classifier. This led to the conclusion that 47 percent of total U.S. employment is at risk.
On the other hand, the OECD sees the proportion of types of employment at risk as only one tenth of occupations. This is because "occupations labelled as high-risk occupations often still contain a substantial share of tasks that are hard to automate." This optimistic view is supported by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who is quoted as saying: "Technology exists for people. We worry about technology because we lack confidence in ourselves, and imagination for the future."
Taking a different approach, MIT professor Daron Acemoglu looks to automation being sector specific. The academic says that manufacturing is heading towards automation saturation and instead attention should be paid to service sectors such as retail, delivery, accountancy and law. These are particularly vulnerable to artificial intelligence. The consequence of this, Sarah O'Connor writing in the Financial Times notes, is geographical. Taking London she opines that since the British capital has a disproportionately high share of the country’s legal and financial professionals then its could be heaviest hit across the next decade or so through an expansion of machine intelligence.
Put workers in control of the machines
On the most part, politicians are not addressing the socioeconomic implications. One exception is Jeremy Corbyn, who raised the subject of robotics at a talk for the Labour Party's affiliated party The Co-operative Party in October 2017. Corbyn warned of the risk to jobs to automation. As an alternative vision, Corbyn sees employment opportunities if the control of the robots is put under the regulation of the workers who will lose jobs to automation. Corbyn stated: "The technology of the digital age should empower us both as workers and consumers, allowing us to co-operate on a scale in a way that wasn't possible in the past."
Universal basic income
Outside of politics, businessman Richard Branson sees universal basic income as an idea to consider. The Virgin founder spoke with Business Insider while attending the Nordic Business Forum: “Basic income is going to be all the more important. If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least that the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net.”
Whichever path of futurism is correct, robotics are likely to change at least some aspects of work as we know it today and it is time for politicians to open up an honest debate on the subject. Technology is not deterministic, nor is it neural. it's up to people what they chose to do with it.
For more on futurism and robotics, see the Digital Journal article "Reimagining work: What robots can do for us."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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