Robot and AI threaten technological unemployment, warns BoE Chief Economist

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Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, has today warned that robots and artificial intelligence could potentially make a huge number of UK jobs obsolete, as thousands of workers could face technological unemployment due to advancing technology.

Speaking to the BBC for the Today Programme, Mr Haldane predicts that the so called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” would be on a “much greater scale”, and that the UK will in turn need a skills revolution to avoid mass unemployment.

He said:  “Each of those [the three previous industrial revolutions] had a wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society.

“Jobs were effectively taken by machines of various types… and that left a lot of people for a lengthy period out of work and struggling to make a living.”

Furthermore, Mr Haldane said that as computers and artificial intelligence took over the world, the “dark side of technological revolutions” heightened social and financial tensions which led “to a rise in inequality”.

To mitigate the risk of history repeating itself, so to speak, Mr Haldane says that it is important to ensure that people were given the training to take advantage of the new jobs that would become available in the future.

The new head of the government’s advisory council on artificial intelligence also echoed the same sentiments, warning that there’s a “huge risk” of people being left behind due to new technological changes in the world of work.

Robot and AI threaten technological unemployment

The chair of the Artificial Intelligence Council, Tabitha Goldstaub, said that the challenge was twofold, getting people ready for change, and focusing on creating new jobs of the future to replace those that are likely to disappear.

“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,” said Mr Haldane.

According to Haldane, manual jobs would be more at risk, while jobs that focus on human interaction, which require face-to-face interaction and negotiation would be likely to flourish.

On the whole, Ms Goldstaub acknowledge that there are great opportunities as well as challenges ahead.

“What we have to think about is the time in which this change is happening, and it is definitely happening quicker than ever before,” she said.

“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 new technology, maintaining the new technology or collaborating with the new technology?”

The question of technological unemployment is not a matter of whether or not it is likely to happen, but rather it is a case of when, and how best to maximize on the accompanying opportunities, while working towards reducing the negative impact associated with the changes.

Goldstaud seems to be optimist about the future although, stating that it is “not going to be an easy journey, but I do believe there is hope at the end of it all.”