What will the future of work look like?

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  1. Up to 375m people may need to change careers by 2030 because of artificial intelligence
  2. Most automation forecast to occur in developing countries, with those in low-skilled, low-paid jobs likely to be hit hardest
  3. "The evidence of history tells us that, in theory, in the end we'll have more jobs than get destroyed" - Future of Work commissioner

Harry Ridgewell attended Chatham House’s Future of Work 2018 conference. The independent commission was set up and is co-chaired by UK’s Labour deputy leader Tom Watson. The conference covered the trend of slowing global productivity (Mckinsey), how automation will affect all of our lives and whether universal basic income is the answer to some of these problems. 

This article plans to cover:

  • Jobs that will be affected by automation
  • The types of jobs people will be doing in the future
  • Possible solutions to automation: Universal basic income and the taxing of robots

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Transcripts of interviews

Allen Blue – co-founder of linked in
Alistar Shepherd – founder and president of Saberr
Bruce Reed – civic, future of work initiative, aspen institute
Carl Frey- co-director oxford martin programme on technology and employment university of oxford
Liam Byrne – Labour-MP
Naomi Climer – Commissioner; Independent commission on the future of work
James Manyika – Director of McKinsey Global Institute

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Experts: Answer to automation is not Universal Basic Income

At a recent conference in London, economists, entrepreneurs and politicians discussed how automation will change the nature of future jobs. Automation may sound like a futuristic concept to most, but it is not new, with the first industrial revolution (steam power), second (electric powered mass production), and third (the rise of computers) all past examples. However, the idea that machines could be programmed to make more machines to replace jobs is a relatively new one and consulting firm McKinsey estimates that in the present “4th Industrial Revolution”, change is happening ten times faster than in the first. Considering British weavers, known as The Luddites, revolted against machines replacing them in 1811 and the World Inequality’s 2018 report found that left unchanged, global inequality will continue to increase as it has in recent decades, it is possible history repeats itself — particularly when the poorest will be most affected.

At Chatham House’s Future of Work 2018 event, audience members continuously asked panels of experts whether Universal Basic Income (UBI) was the solution to the problems posed by automation, but much to their disappointment, they dismissed the idea governments should give out free money. Despite support for UBI from business entrepreneurs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Space X’s Elon Musk and Microsoft’s Bill Gates (Business Insider), panelist Bruce Reed told WikiTribune: “I don’t see UBI as an answer to inequality. It is at best a life-support system for people who are falling behind.” 

WikiTribune also put the idea of levying robot owners, as a way of making up for government taxes which would otherwise be collected by taxing employees salaries, to panelists. Economist Carl Benedikt Frey, who worked on the much referenced joint Citibank – Oxford University study, that reported 47 percent of U.S., 69 percent of Indian and 77 percent of jobs in China are at risk of automation, told WikiTribune:”Taxing of robots is a terrible idea because, in the end, the improvements in living standards depend on productivity growth, so without productivity growth, wages cannot rise.”

However, experts did revive the much-touted prediction that people’s working hours would reduce, as well as support a safety net of universal basic services, such as free healthcare and education.

Experts also said continued free education is going to become more key, as it’s predicted that in the future people will have a greater number of careers, and have to retrain more frequently, as entire professions or aspects of their work become automated. McKinsey’s 2017 report found that in roughly 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the work could be automated and up to 375 million people worldwide may need to change careers by 2030 because of artificial intelligence (AI).

This is not to say there will be mass unemployment. “The evidence of history tells us that in theory, in the end we’ll have more jobs than get destroyed,” Future of Work commissioner Naomi Climer told Wikitribune.

While those working in sectors such as transport could largely be replaced with driverless cars, one of PwC’s 2018 studies says job losses from automation are likely to be largely offset in the long term by new jobs arising from automation. However, those in low-skilled, low paid jobs such as administrative and manual occupations, as well as those in higher skilled financial jobs, are likely to be hit hardest.

In the past, automation happened primarily for blue collar [manual] jobs, and at a slow enough rate that society could adapt. However, today, automation is happening for even some kinds of white collar [professional/administrative] jobs, and is happening faster and faster, hollowing out the American middle class,” Carnegie Mellon University’s Professor Jason Hong told WikiTribune.

Without change in education and training unemployment will increase and wages will decrease according to McKinsey. However, the consulting firm predicts that by 2030 there will be at least 300 million more people aged 65 years and older than there were in 2014. Because of this, jobs related to medicine and healthcare will be created, and currently lower paid jobs like carer givers will become more needed. Its reports also say low-medium paid jobs in unpredictable environments, such as plumbers, or roles which require human interaction, like teachers, will become more valuable. Economist Frey says: “I don’t think that it’s all about technical education, so acquiring social and creative skills are just as important, so there is still a future for people in the humanities.”

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, most automation is forecast to occur in developing countries, and could affect two thirds of jobs globally, according to the World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Whether automation will deepen or lessen inequality remains to be seen, however…

While these mainstream economic philosophies maintain an unbalanced status-quo, some repudiation of the entire concept of work in general has been presented by some radical thinkers such as in Bob Black, his essay ‘The Abolition of Work’. Black argues that being forced into work simply by being born in uncontrollable, and unfavorable economic conditions is unethical, and one day will seem as old world as the concept of slavery seems today.

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