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Joe Tibbetts is the publisher and managing editor of i-D Information Daily; Public Service Digital and Council News Monitor. He anchors the Reality Bites podcast; & AnswerTime the InformationDaily.TV panel show; chairs conferences, and advises organisations on how to get heard.

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4m private sector jobs could go to Robots in the next decade

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© TP38 AI Unit, Alex B, 2007

A report released by YouGov for the Royal Society of Arts reveals that robotic workers will largely take over jobs in finance and accounting, transport and distribution, and marketing and advertising in the next decade.

The Royal Society of Arts has released a report discussing the future and implications of the mechasnization of private industry. Questioning whether the fears surrounding the automation of jobs are justified and what the reality of robotics in the workplace means, the report is an important step in taking the question of robotics out of conjecture and into real discussion.

"Our first conclusion is that AI and robotics are more likely to alter jobs than to eliminate them. Despite impressive advances in machine capability, many tasks remain outside of their scope, particularly those demanding manual dexterity and deeper forms of creativity and communication" states the report.

Interestingly, this comes as a departure from previous reports, such as Oxford University and Deloitte's study last year, that suggest that 850,000 jobs will be lost to automation by 2030. Rather, automation will allow "workers to pivot into new roles should machines encroach on their turf.

However, the potential new fields of employment that automation could bring does not overshadow the potential detriment that it may bring to many workforces: "new technology could deskill occupations, reduce worker bargaining power and wages, and bring forth an unhealthy degree of workplace surveillance." On the other hand, the report argues, the same technology has the potential to increase the competitiveness of UK business by raising productivity levels. Furthermore, this may pave the way to higher wages, while simultaneously phasing out dangerous and dull jobs.

The report digresses, however, that the loss of jobs to machines is irrelavent unless UK accelrates its adoption of AI and machines. A recent RSA/YouGov poll of UK business leaders found that "just 14 percent are currently investing in this technology or plan to in the near future." This is not to say that automation is not already present in some industries. Linklaters, the law firm, use software that use AI to complete tasks junior lawyers would usually have, and Asda operate a completely automated warehouse in west London. However, the introduction of automated machines into other areas has yet to take off. 

The report summarises that "AI and robotics could put the UK on the path to a better world of work, so long as we can implement automation on our own terms."

"Among our recommendations are for employers to co-create automation strategies with their employees, for tech companies to take a lead on drafting and signing up to ethical frameworks, and for the government to establish personal training accounts that could aid lifelong learning." What is apparent then, is that the RSA report suggests that there is no time lie the present to beging the dialogue surrounding automation and AI in the workplace. Rather than let conjecture lead the debate, an exploration of the pros and cons, involving all, will allow a clearer understanding of what the future may hold for workers whos jobs may be threatened by automation: "Most importantly, we need to begin a conversation about who owns the machines and how to distribute their proceeds more fairly.

However, rather than the issue of a usurped workforce, the RSA/YouGov report suggests thats the real issue lies within the ethical considerations of employing automation and AI. "While for most of human history our problems have revolved around issues of material scarcity, the new machine age promises to bring about an era of unprecedented abundance...question is whether we have the political courage and conviction to share the wealth wisely."

This report presents a beginning for a real discussion on the issues surrounding automation in the workplace, whether that be the loss of jobs or the opportunity to increase shared wealth by phasing out low paid and dangerous jobs.  

 

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