Labour, UKIP, Conservative, Lib Dem

Forget the economy: the "future of work" is the key issue in this election

By: The Leader @theleaderspeaks
Published: Monday, March 9, 2015 - 09:16 GMT Jump to Comments

Robotics, the internet of things, the surrender of autonomy and end of work as we know it are all here and now. Yet politicians of all parties are strangely silent on the subject.

A malign force, Artificial Stupidity (AS), a form of robotic thinking developed especially to speak to politicians in a language and using terms they understand, is quite obviously controlling the minds of our electioneering political leaders.

While everyone including London's licensed taxi driver's, a gaggle of Oxford University researchers, Radio 4, Stephen Hawking and our own columnists David Bailey and Judith Carr are wrestling with the implications of automation and the imminent evaporation of astronomically large numbers of jobs, they remain stubbornly silent on the matter.

All taxi drivers, not just the owner-drivers of London's famous black cabs, are under threat of extinction from automation - and they are not alone. A recent study by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne at Oxford University suggests that 47% of all categories of jobs providing employment today could be automated within 20 years.

This research has been widely misreported. Osborne and Frey did not say that 47% of all jobs will be automated but rather that 47% of all categories of jobs may disappear. If you look at the list of categories included at the end of their report it is clear that the total number of jobs under threat is far greater than 47%, simply because many of the categories are large cohorts.

Sweep away the rocket scientists of the world and we would hardly notice the blip. Make all the world's taxi drivers, delivery and distribution drivers, bus drivers, tram drivers, train drivers, street cleaner drivers and garbage truck drivers redundant and you get an unemployment problem that will destroy economies and cause serious, global social problems. There are more than four million people driving trucks, taxis, limos and buses in the USA alone.  

Technological innovation is as certain as death and taxes and all three tend to be unevenly distributed. The less well educated and the less well off will suffer the pain of the new technological revolution first and will feel the effects for longer. But middle class, white collar jobs are going to disappear almost as quickly as the blue collar sort.

According to US state department figures, in the first decade of this brave new century, America lost over a million jobs. Book-keepers have been cut by a quarter, travel agents by two thirds and telephone operators by nearly a half. 

Elsewhere in these pages, Judith Carr reports on the BBC Radio 4 Analysis series on artificial intelligence and the use of robots and the upcoming BBC World News broadcast  'BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID: THE ROBOTS ARE COMING AND THEY WILL DESTROY OUR LIVELIHOODS'. But the politicians, busy trying to save their own political skins, remain silent on the tsunami in the room.

Governments, not least the British government, should have started planning how to manage the changes and cushion their citizens from the worst effects a long time ago. All the parties are frighteningly silent on the subject of "the future of work". They will rue their carelessness.

Judith Carr on FutureFest

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