Robots could help drive down the retirement age

There is an inherent fear of robots and AI taking over jobs, but these processes should benefit the human worker.

A new report published by the TUC today has argued that the economic gains from digitisation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will benefit working people. For example, by reversing policies to raise the state pension age. The report delves into the impact of the technological revolution on jobs and wages.

Previous technological changes, like the Industrial Revolution, have not led to an overall loss of jobs, but have disrupted the types of job people do.

Nevertheless, it is a concern for people. A 2016 OpenText survey of 2,000 UK based respondents offers a snapshot of the UK public’s view on whether or not they believe – or fear – that machine learning or robot technology could replace their jobs.

>See also: The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Technology alliances lead the charge

A significant number of those British residents surveyed (42%) believed their job could be replaced by a robot by 2066, while a quarter (25%) think this could happen within the next 10 years.

One in ten 25-34 year olds believe their role could be replaced by a robot as soon as 2018. And this fear is felt particularly by the younger generation of workers: 1 in 5 (19%) 18-24 year olds said they sometimes or frequently worry about the prospect of their jobs could be replaced by robot technology, compared to nearly three quarters (73%) of 45-54 year olds, who said that never worry about it.

The rewards

Typically, following on from a significant industrial change, the rewards from increased productivity have gone increasingly to those in charge, rather than being shared across the workforce through better wages and working conditions.

For example, the TUC report points to the 1950s, where almost one in three workers worked in manufacturing, while one in 12 worked in professional and technical services. By 2016 these shares had reversed.

It suggests that the jobs lost in manufacturing were not replaced by jobs of similar or better quality in the communities affected – ‘wages in former industrial areas are still 10% below the national average’.

>See also: Is your company ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

This must not be the case following the Fourth Industrial – or Digital – Revolution, according to TUC. It calls on governments, businesses and trade unions to work together to ‘mitigate disruption to working people’s lives, and to maximise opportunities for working people to benefit. And with two-thirds of the 2030 workforce already in work today, efforts must focus on ensuring that existing workers are equipped to deal with the change.’

Ideas from the report for how the benefits could be shared with workers include:

 Using income gains from higher productivity to stop planned increases in the state pension age, set to affect millions of people in their 40s.
 Giving everyone the right to a mid-life career review, and stepping up the investment in workplace training to the EU average – at present the UK invests just half.
 Giving more workers the opportunity through collective bargaining to gain a share of the economic gains technology brings through wage increases.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “With the UK failing to make productivity gains in the last decade, we need to make the most of the economic opportunities that new technologies are offering. Robots and AI could let us produce more for less, boosting national prosperity. But we need a debate about who benefits from this wealth, and how workers get a fair share.”

“We should look on the changes ahead as an opportunity to improve the lives of working people and their families. The government could use the revenue generated to reverse policies to raise the state pension age. And businesses could use productivity gains to improve the pay and conditions of workers.”

>See also: How will the UK adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

“Robots are not just terminators. Some of today’s jobs will not survive, but new jobs will be created. We must make sure that tomorrow’s jobs are no worse than today’s. They must provide fulfilling work, with good pay and conditions. And there must be funding to train people for new work if their job is made obsolete.”


Mark Barrenechea, CEO at OpenText, questions whether people should be worried about AI replacing their jobs – or not…

“Many jobs will disappear through automation and others will change significantly as the enterprise becomes more automated and intelligent. Over the next few years, some of us could be answering to robo-bosses. From a productivity perspective, we spend a third of our time in the workplace collecting and processing data—AI could all but eliminate this work. Every job in every industry will be impacted by machine learning.”

“We shouldn’t, however, fear this disruption. M2M communications will enable machines to process data and make decisions based on this data as we move toward more intelligent, cognitive systems. In many cases, the intelligence these systems deliver will be more accurate, immediate and safer than humanly capable.”

“The upside? The opportunity to think exponentially means that the potential applications for these technologies are limitless. The economic impact of digital is vast. Businesses that use the internet tend to grow more quickly, export two times as much as those that don’t, and create more than twice as many jobs. Yet many companies are off to a poor start on the journey toward digital transformation. While organisations are taking advantage of digital technologies, many economies remain digitally immature. This means that the ability to unlock the value of digital is far from being realised.”

>See also: AI will drive productivity not threaten workers’ jobs

“For businesses, understanding cognitive systems, big data analytics, machine learning technology, and AI—and how to leverage them—will be critical for survival. In the short term, these technologies will give organisations faster access to sophisticated insights, empowering them to make better decisions and act with agility to outpace their competitors.”

“This Digital Revolution will bring an increasing reliance on self-service technology, machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and artificial intelligence. These will completely transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...