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Defying the Automation Doom and Gloom

Recently, Radio 4's PM Programme ran a segment called ‘Will a robot take your job?’. Little explanation is needed of the subject matter, as broadcaster and science historian, James Burke, gave a short monologue around why we should all be thinking about life on the professional scrapheap.

The idea of machines taking our jobs isn’t new. Not least because it has been happening for centuries in some form or another. Of course, technology today means it is happening faster than ever before - Burke cited multiple examples ranging from bomb diffusers to journalists.

But, while people would be forgiven for thinking that they’re about to feel the icy-cold, machine hand of doom on their shoulder, it’s not the apocalypse some profess. Here is our take on three arguments put forward on the PM Programme:

  • End of the line for low-skilled: Robots and machines mean many jobs are becoming extinct. But is anybody actually lamenting the death of the checkout or call centre? Of course, James used those examples to illustrate a broader point, but while some jobs are becoming extinct, what is happening today is that people are simply moving into other work and industries.

  • 90% of jobs gone in 30 years: If the previous argument suggests jobs are being lost now, then this one points to the fact that the earth will be one big job centre in a generation or so time. While James argues that any new jobs being created are being done by machines, that is simply not the case. In fact, workers of tomorrow are learning new skills and competencies designed to suit the workplace of 2050 and beyond, like coding and programming and roles based around HECI (Humanity, Ethics, Creativity, Imagination).

  • No job, no money: Universal basic income is a concept that has been mooted for some time but we are a long, long way from this. It suggests that we’re all given an allowance without anybody needing to work because robots will do everything for us. But, looking at where we are today, being worried about this is essentially like worrying how to build a skyscraper on Saturn, when we don’t yet know if we can even get there safely.

For all of the advancements made in robotics, AI and machine learning, we remain a long way from some all-controlling Skynet-type organisation. While it is clear that some jobs will become completely extinct, and many others will change beyond all recognition, this will lead to the creation of other, new jobs. We’ll see positions like ‘robot teacher’ and ‘drone pilot’ come much sooner than spending days in our armchairs being tended to by one of those machines created in Wallace and Gromit.