By Lyndsey Hall
The Bank of England’s chief economist has warned that a “skills revolution” is needed to avoid thousands of people becoming “technologically unemployed” as artificial intelligence (AI) makes many jobs obsolete.
Andy Haldane said the possible disruption of what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution could be “on a much greater scale” than anything felt during the First Industrial Revolution, back in the Victorian era. It was important to learn the “lessons of history”, he argued, and ensure that people were given the training to take advantage of the new jobs that would become available. He added that in the past a safety net such as new welfare benefits had also been provided.
Haldane’s comments were echoed by the new head of the government’s advisory council on artificial intelligence, who also warned there was a “huge risk” of people being left behind as computers and robots changed the world of work.
Tabitha Goldstaub, chair of the newly formed Artificial Intelligence Council, said the challenge was ensuring that people were ready for change and the focus was on creating the new jobs of the future to replace those that would disappear.
“Each of those [industrial revolutions] had a wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society,” Haldane said.
“Jobs were effectively taken by machines of various types, there was a hollowing out of the jobs market, and that left a lot of people for a lengthy period out of work and struggling to make a living. That heightened social tensions; it heightened financial tensions; it led to a rise in inequality. This is the dark side of technological revolutions and that dark-side has always been there.
That hollowing out is going to be potentially on a much greater scale in the future, when we have machines both thinking and doing – replacing both the cognitive and the technical skill of humans.”
Haldane said job losses would be compensated for by the creation of new jobs as a “new technological wave” broke over society. According to Haldane, the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution “is likely to be at least as large as that of the first three industrial revolutions”.
“We will need even greater numbers of new jobs to be created in the future, if we are not to suffer this longer-term feature called technological unemployment.
Haldane said that jobs that focus on skills of human interaction, face-to-face conversation and negotiation would be likely to flourish, whilst simple manual jobs would be more at risk.
Goldstaub said there were great opportunities ahead as well as significant challenges. According to Goldstaub, the change is happening “quicker than ever before”.
“The challenge we have now is ensuring our workforce is ready for that change. What are the new jobs that will be created, whether those are in building…maintaining…or collaborating with the new technology?
There is a hopeful view [based] on the fact that a lot of these [disappearing] jobs are boring, mundane, unsafe, drudgery – there could be some element of liberation from some of these jobs and a move towards a brighter world.”
Klaus Schwaub, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, associates the Fourth Industrial Revolution with the second machine age, in terms of the effects of digitisation and AI on the economy. He sees as part of this revolution “emerging technology breakthroughs” in fields such as AI, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, quantum computing and nanotechnology. It is already disrupting almost every industry in every country, and the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
Has your industry seen signs of the disruptive effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Are you concerned about AI making your current job obsolete? Leave your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.