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Digital revolution to have “wrenching impact” on jobs market, predicts economist

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The bank of England’s chief economist has said we should learn from history to avoid “large swathes” of people becoming unemployed as artificial intelligence makes many jobs obsolete.


Speaking on Radio 4 yesterday, Andy Haldane, said: “The last 300 years of history we’ve had three industrial revolutions and each of those had a wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society whose jobs were effectively taken by machines of various types.”

But what is tipped to be the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, will potentially have a greater impact he said: “It will be the machine replacing humans doing ‘thinking things’ as well as ‘doing things’."

“It’s going to be potentially on a much greater scale [than been in the past],” he said.

He told the Today Programme, which this week is devoting a series of programmes to the future of work topic, that: “Given the scale of job loss is likely to be as large as the first three revolutions, we’ll need equal number of jobs to be created in the future if we are not to suffer technological unemployment.”

Machines will replace humans doing ‘thinking things’ as well as ‘doing things’, the bank of england chief economist said. Photograph: iStock

He said that providing people with the “skills to survive in the new world of work” will be a vital precautionary action. “The other societal response has historically been to put in place mechanisms to cushion the impact for those left behind by technology, access to money, loans, healthcare and housing,” he added.

Mr Haldane’s comments follow two reports that have seen researchers attempt to quantify how deeply the impact of robotics will be felt on the world of work.  

PriceWaterhouseCooper’s July 2018 report says that sectors estimated to see the largest net long-term decrease in jobs due to AI are manufacturing (-25% fewer jobs), transport and storage (-22%) and public administration (-18%).

But overall it says the share of existing jobs displaced by AI – around 20%– is likely to be approximately equal to the additional jobs that are created.

A 2018 study published in March by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that about 14% of jobs in 32 countries are “highly automatable”.

It said that close to one in two jobs are likely to be “significantly affected” by automation.

On 17 August Cambridge University issued a consultation to look at how automation could assist in auditing, checking and compliance of regulations in the future.

Its Centre for Digital Built Britain put out an online survey to help understand the “present capabilities of compliance systems, along with the current attitudes and industry readiness for the digitisation of regulations and compliance checking”.

Future risk: impact of work on health, safety and wellbeing a British Safety Councill report, can be read here 

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