Having to talk to robots when you ring up the tax office, the increasing number of self-service tills in shops – have you ever suspected the machines are taking over? Well, you wouldn’t be alone. A north east MP has said the government must act rapidly to deal with the challenge of robots taking jobs from human workers.
Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central, said in a House of Commons debate that “many of my constituents live in fear of the rise of robots, which could result in fewer jobs.”
Citing research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Ms Onwurah claimed “that 25% of workers could see the majority of their work automated within the next ten years.”
Ms Onwurah urged the government to come up with a comprehensive strategy to tackle this issue. She said, “I want this government to be proactive and use technology to help create more jobs for people across the country.”
Ms Onwurah is far from the only politician to voice such concerns. Her colleague Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, has launched a new commission to investigate the future of work in Britain. Much of the commission’s work will focus on the immense changes automation is likely to bring.
Mr Watson said, “New automated technologies are fusing with the internet, and creating models of work and jobs we haven’t seen before. Daily we hear stories of machines and systems that can do things we thought only humans could do – driving cars, drafting contracts, even composing music.”
Oxford academics Carl Frey and Michael Osbourne claim that an incredible 35% of British jobs could be automated within the next twenty years. A report from the market research company Forrester states that robots will have eliminated 6% of American jobs by 2021, with “the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer services and consumer services.” Uber and Google are working on driverless cars and similar technology is seeping into trucking, which may replace costly human drivers.
It’s not just manual, transport and service sector workers who are at risk from automation. Certain tasks performed by doctors and accountants could soon be done by apps. Fewer Human Resources professionals could be needed as apps could scan CVs for the right key words. Even literary agents could be on the way out, with apps scanning submissions from hopeful authors to check for character development and plot structure.
The government do claim to be drawing up a strategy in response to what Mr Watson calls the “fourth industrial revolution”. Led by business secretary Greg Clark, the strategy is designed to help industry in every area of the nation, including the north east.
But Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said manufacturers were still waiting for the government to clarify its ideas. Mr Wright stated, “It is increasingly obvious the government is not entirely clear what an industrial strategy looks like.”