16 Nov 2017

The future of full-time. Labor market after robots

One of the most vivid nightmares of nationalists worldwide is the scenario where “THEY steal our jobs”. Replace “THEM” with whatever suits you. In the UK - Poles, in Poland - Ukrainians, in France - Algerians. But what if THEY are robots?

Editorial Team
Editorial Team NewsMavens, Europe
Source: New Internationalist
The future of full-time. Labor market after robots - NewsMavens
Spanish Army iRobot PackBot 510 IED robot. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

If you start typing into Google the phrase “when will robots take over…” the first entry suggested would be “the world” and the second -- “our jobs”. Websites such as www.willrobotstakemyjob.com help to assess how quickly your field will be automated. The idea that many jobs will soon be executed by bots, Als and other types of machines is no longer a sci-fi fantasy. It is an imminent change that brings to light a whole set of questions that public opinion seems to be ignoring.

What will happen to millions of unemployed people? Should they be supported by the state through schemes such as the universal basic income (UBI) guaranteeing every citizen a monthly salary regardless of their employment status? If so, then how much should it be? Who is the owner of the robots? And, above all, how to distribute the wealth they create evenly?

In the article “Plutocrats and paupers: life after robots”, Nick Dowson of the New Internationalist argues that the future of the labor market is usually projected through two opposing narratives:

“Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will swallow up jobs, say the tech bosses, the analysts, the commentators: so we’ll need to pay everyone a basic income.”

and

“Populations are ageing, say the politicians: so we’ll all have to work for longer (Australia’s government is already considering raising the pension age to 70 by 2035).”

From Mark Zuckerberg to Milton Friedman, for many economists and tech-specialists the UBI has become an intellectual fetish. The public is more wary. The Swiss decisively rejected the idea in a notorious public vote in June 2016. The Finns have selected a group of 2000 unemployed citizens who will be receiving UBI for the next two years, while a research team, the government and, well, most of the EU observes them.

Basic income is often presented as the only political solution for the future crisis on the labor market. Dawson proposes a set of other options: from bringing tech corporations into public ownership to taxing robots. Some of them are more utopian than others but all deserve to be discussed, which is something we don't seem to be doing yet.

And that is not only a shame. It is dangerous. We are in the process of creating an intelligence that will not have the wisdom or spontaneity of humans, yet will be quicker, more efficient and able to learn with each mistake -- not just its own but also of others. In other words, a dream employee. Though controled by us, robots will soon become global subjects not to be ignored. Faced with this future, we need to have a strategy for our co-existence. Dowson’s article is an excellent introduction to the subject.

-- Ada Petriczko

Newsmavens editor

Details from the story:

  • According to The Future of Employment, a study by Oxford University academics, some jobs are more prone to automatisation. Telemarketers, for example, have a 99% chance of losing their jobs to robots in the future. Creative positions will be more immune to automatisation.
  • In June 2016, a public vote about UBI was held in Switzerland. 77% of voters rejected the proposal.
  • In Finland, a team of researchers is examining the effects of UBI on a group of 2000 unemployed citizens. For two years, they receive 560 euros a month.
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