Will Robots Steal Our Jobs?

Will Robots Steal Our Jobs?

I’ve jumped on the bandwagon. At the moment everybody’s talking about how developments in artificial intelligence are going to affect the labour market, with researchers, policy-makers, businesses, and tech companies clamouring to figure out how the world of work is going to change in the upcoming decades because of AI.

Last year I worked on the early stages of a project at University College London called “AI and the Future of Work”. A collaboration between UCL’s Public Policy department and the British Academy, the project was initially formed to provide evidence to an inquiry by the UK government’s Work & Pensions Committee on how to prepare for changes in the world of work. We gathered stakeholders together from universities, Parliament, AI companies, and trade organisations to discuss key questions around what the future of work will look like – and, crucially, what equality issues we should be thinking about now, before they get even worse.

Who is going to be most at risk of losing their jobs to automation? How can this be made more equitable? How can we prepare people from the most disadvantaged groups in society to be ready for the future job market? What will “good work” look like in the future?

Obviously there are no complete answers to many of these questions, but it’s essential that we ask them now. We need to be paying attention to the risks of how AI can worsen or entrench existing inequalities, as well as actively exploring how AI can be utilised to improve opportunities for the most disenfranchised.

The project has continued throughout 2021 and has resulted in the publication of a set of briefing papers exploring some of these questions. A key piece of advice emerging from the stakeholder consultations is that developments in AI shouldn’t be allowed to be driven by the capitalist needs of technology companies – research-informed policy (including legislation) is required to shape the development of AI for social good. The government should be thinking ahead to plan how education and training can be provided to help people develop tech-focused “future skills” to improve their job security. And attention needs to be paid to regional differences across the UK – being based in the South of England during the pandemic it’s often felt like everybody’s working from home nowadays, but in large parts of the country the majority of work is in industries that can’t be carried out remotely. It’s essential that a London-centric or knowledge-economy-centric approach doesn’t leave large swathes of the population behind by failing to plan for future impacts on their communities.

More information about the project and it’s resulting briefing papers is available on UCL’s website.