The Future of Employment

Machines are on the rise. While they aren't out to get you just yet — and might never be — they are already gunning for one thing: your job. If you work in the transportation industry, manufacturing, some sectors of the information technology industry, and maybe even in insurance, law, or taxation, you may already be obsolete.

The point is, increased automation is expected to dramatically disrupt worldwide employment as early as 2020. Recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are making this change possible. These developments, of course, aren't inherently bad, but their effect on jobs will certainly present challenges. The question is, how prepared are we to meet those challenges?


In a recent post in the Bank of England’s (BOE) staff blog, BOE regional agents Mauricio Armellini and Tim Pike explored the uncertainty surrounding automation, sharing their thoughts on the effects AI and increased automation will have on labor markets:

There is growing debate in the economics community and academia about whether technological progress threatens to displace a large proportion of these jobs in the longer term ... Economists looking at previous industrial revolutions observe that none of these risks have transpired. However, this possibly underestimates the very different nature of the technological advances currently in progress, in terms of their much broader industrial and occupational applications and their speed of diffusion.

Technology is moving fast, but society might not be adjusting fast enough, the pair argues:

The potential for simultaneous and rapid disruption, coupled with the breadth of human functions that AI might replicate, may have profound implications for labor markets ... [E]conomists should seriously consider the possibility that millions of people may be at risk of unemployment, should these technologies be widely adopted.

Getting Ready for Robots

The BOE's experts aren't alone in their assessment of the situation. Several notable personalities from both the financial and tech industries have expressed their concerns regarding job displacement. However, even though they agree it'll be a major problem, they can't agree on what should be done about it. Elon Musk has famously endorsed universal basic income (UBI) as a potential solution. Meanwhile, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban thinks that UBI is "one of the worst possible responses" to the unemployment problem. Bill Gates isn't too keen on UBI now, but he does think it could be a viable solution in the future.

Perhaps the best thing we can do right now is simply prepare. As automation is expected to takeover so-called lesser-skilled jobs first, there's an opportunity for the development of better jobs. For example, we'll need people to monitor and maintain automated systems as they are implemented. Those people will need to be trained for these so-called jobs of the future that automation will necessitate.

It's worth investing in these solutions now. As Armellini and Pike concluded, "It would be a mistake ... to dismiss the risks associated with these new technologies too lightly."

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