Robots and AI – it’s the debate of the moment. Will robots put humans to the back of the dole queue, or simply enable workers to put their minds to more intellectual, fulfilling tasks? How smart will the robots become….smarter than us? What happens then, will we be thrown into a dystopian future ruled by our robot overlords? Dramatic, yes, possible, maybe – especially when you take into account new findings from think-tank Future Advocacy.
Researching the impact of automation in each parliamentary constituency in England, Scotland and Wales, the think-tank, by its own omission, called the findings ‘startling’.
According to the results, the proportion of jobs at high risk of automation by the early 2030s varies from 22% to 39% for different constituencies. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s constituency of Hayes and Harlington is predicted to see the highest rates of automation, while another Labour MP Ian Murray’s Edinburgh South constituency is predicted to have the lowest levels of automation. Of those constituencies seeing the highest proportion of jobs at high risk of displacement by automation, manufacturing, transport and storage were those industries most likely to be hit hardest.
Aiming to create ‘a more geographically sophisticated understanding of, and response to, the future of work’, Future Advocacy mapped its research findings onto a heat map showing how the potential impact of automation could vary across Great Britain.
The highest levels of automation are expected to be seen in the areas once catalysts for the Industrial Revolution, the Midlands and the North of England. What is of concern is that these areas are already unemployment hotspots, having already suffered from deindustrialisation.
As well as the heat map, an opinion poll conducted by the think-tank also revealed the fears, or lack of fear, held by the public in regard to automation and AI. Findings revealed that “despite evidence suggesting high levels of automation are coming, the majority of people remain unworried about the impact of automation on their jobs and on jobs in their local area.” Just 7% were found to be worried about their own jobs being displaced, while just 28% were concerned about jobs in their local area.
Based on these findings, as well as the ‘startling’ geographic data, Future Advocacy has urged the UK government to address the “unequal geographical distribution of the impact of automation.” Urging the government to not repeat past mistakes seen in the history of manufacturing and mining industries, the think-tank has warned the government to not issue ‘one-size-fits-all’ automation policies, instead advocating education and training and giving support to ‘robot tax’.
“Ultimately, we support a taxation model that results in fairer distribution of the wealth that these technologies will create, rather than having this wealth concentrated in the hands of a few commercial entities who own robots and other automated technologies,” the think-tank said in the report.
Future Advocacy’s report finished in the same way as I started this article, with questions. Highlighting that the road ahead has many unpredictable obstacles and challenges, the think-tank once again urged the government to lead the AI and automation discourse and not underestimate the different impact on industries and areas of the UK.
“We should start the debate now on what such a world should look like – if humans are not spending most of their time working, what else can they be doing? How do we derive purpose and meaning in a world with less work? These questions do not have simple, straightforward answers, and we call on Government to drive this important debate without delay,” Future Advocacy concluded.