LP Conference: Artifical Intelligence Pop-up Discussion

No jobs, no skills, no control - how do we challenge the Artificial Intelligence dystopia

Impact of Automation

  • In 2018 PWC argued that AI would create slightly more jobs (7.2m) than it displaced (7m) by boosting economic growth
  • PWC estimated about 20% of jobs would be automated over the next 20 years and no sector would be unaffected
  • The extent to which jobs created by AI would outweigh those lost is disputed
  • Data suggests that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed over the last 140 years
  • Census results in England and Wales since 1871 suggest the use of machines has been a job creator rather than making humans obsolete

Luddites of the 1800s worried about the impact of weaving machines, today taxi drivers are concerned by the emergence of self-driving cars, the overall impact on the jobs market has been progressive. One of the biggest impacts has been to low-skilled workers forcing them to retrain. But the creation of alternative forms of work, the rise in productivity and the boost to the economy that technology brings, provides some compensation.

Case study – Autonomous vehicles (AV)

Research by the University of Oxford and Deloitte predicted more than 850,000 public sector jobs could be lost by 2030 through automation. The manufacturing sector is set to be badly hit, a quarter of current jobs could be lost by 2037, a total of nearly 700,000 jobs.

Driverless vehicles pose specific risk. Estimates show 1.2 million people could lose their jobs to automation. Those affected inlcude taxi drivers, delivery van, lorry, or waste removal truck drivers. In the UK alone, there are 400,000 HGV drivers, over 600,000 couriers, and there almost 300,000 licensed taxi drivers.

While ‘traditional’ driving roles may decline those previously in that role may be able to move into other forms of associated work such as maintenance of vehicles, loading products into vehicles and customer services.

AVs may have positive net economic effects, but close monitoring is required to mitigate negative impacts. The redistribution of employment will disproportionately impact lower-skilled workers.

Displaced workers may spill over to other low-skilled occupations, creating downward pressure on wages, exacerbating inequality.  The European Parliament’s report on Autonomous Driving in European Transport seeks to ensure a just transition for workers whose jobs may be transformed or disappear due to automation, offering them every opportunity, through upskilling and retraining initiatives, to acquire the skills and knowledge they will need, as well as support during labour market transitions.

Utopia or Dystopia?

AVs could transform huge swathes of our society

  • Self-driving cars will drastically reduce the need for car parking, as they will circulate in cities between passengers
  • Multi-storey car parks could be transformed into homes, offices or public spaces
  • Homeowners could convert their garages and driveways into green space or living rooms
  • Out-of-town pubs and restaurants could enjoy a boom
  • Harder to reach places become more accessible
  • AVs could bring the added benefit of increasing transport links to rural areas, shortening lengthy - and expensive - commuter times that are barriers to employment, and regenerating areas that have fallen behind larger cities
  • City and suburban streets could be reclaimed. Streets could be narrowed, no longer needing to accommodate parked cars or provide space for careless drivers
  • Roads could also be free of ugly road signs with lines a thing of the past
  • Cityscape and rural views would be improved. In an automated world, vehicles can drive much closer together, operating in a train mode and exchanging information along the way. This will increase the efficiency of current highways and could also reduce the need to build more roads

There is, however, a much darker side linked to other social changes – the gig economy, ownership vs hire and alternative power sources. The transportation sector has already seen steady growth in ‘non-standard employment’. Instead of being hired full-time, permanently, paid to do a certain job, more and more non-standard positions such as owner-operators (people who are nominally independent but still very much work for an ultimate employer) exist: think Uber and Deliveroo.

At present, this transformation manifests itself in a battle for employment rights or greater regulatory oversight, but disputes between regulators and advocates of the sharing economy could, in the future, be irrelevant.

The safety, regulatory issues and the enormous amount of investment required for infrastructure around AVs means these changes will not occur imminently, but fundamental questions are raised about:

  • the type of world we want to live in
  • how we adapt to the changing nature of society and our economy
  • how we prepare, plan and regulate for the eradication of most driving work
  • how we actively manage the space freed up by a reduction in conventional automobile travel

The answers to these questions are the key to ensuring a ‘just transition’ that ensures those working in jobs that are lost to AI are helped to reskill and find alternative work.

The European Union is a leader in research on robotics and AI. Together we can find the resources for solutions to the social, ethical, legal and economic challenges that these new challenges raise. The EU can legislate on the ownership of vehicles, software and data; ensuring that access to mobility is in the hands of everyone, not just the tech-giants and car manufacturers.

As Progressives we must shape the debate so that humanity is retained, individuals have choice and autonomy over our own lives, collective ownership of the vehicles and democratic decision making over public space is assured.