Bank of England chief economist warns over risk of AI jobs threat

There is a 'dark side' to technological revolutions, he says

Bank of England chief economist warns over risk of AI jobs threat

Risk Management News

By Lucy Hook

The chief economist of the UK’s central bank has warned that a skills revolution is needed to combat the risk that AI will lead to “large swathes” of workers becoming unemployed. The potential for disruption in the fourth industrial revolution is potentially much greater than anything felt during the first industrial revolution in the Victorian era, said the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane.

The economist told the BBC’s Today program that there is a “dark side” to technological revolutions.

“Each of those [industrial revolutions] had a wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society,” Haldane said.

“Jobs were effectively taken by machines of various types, there was a hollowing out of the jobs market, and that left a lot of people for a lengthy period out of work and struggling to make a living…That heightened social tensions, it heightened financial tensions, it led to a rise in inequality.”

Tabitha Goldstaub, the new head of the UK government’s advisory council on artificial intelligence, echoed Haldane’s sentiments.

Goldstaub said there was a “huge risk” of people being left behind as computers and robots changed the world of work. She said that the challenge is to ensure that people are ready for change, and the focus needs to be on creating the new jobs of the future to replace those that would disappear.

According to Haldane, we will need to create even more new jobs to combat the fourth industrial revolution.

“What we can, I think, say with some confidence, however, is that given that the scale of job loss displacement it is likely to be at least as large as that of the first three industrial revolutions,” he said.

“We will need even greater numbers of new jobs to be created in the future, if we are not to suffer this longer-term feature called technological unemployment…It has not been a feature of the past, but could it possibly be a feature for the future? I think that is a much more open question than any previous point, possibly, in history.”

One potentially positive outcome is that some less-skilled jobs could be fulfilled by technology in the future and would free people from having to do less interesting work, according to Goldstaub.

“What are the new jobs that will be created whether those are in building new technology, maintaining the new technology or collaborating with the new technology?” she said.

“There is a hopeful view [based] on the fact that a lot of these jobs [that disappear] are boring, mundane, unsafe, drudgery - there could be some element of liberation from some of these jobs and a move towards a brighter world. Now that’s not going to be an easy journey, but I do believe there is hope at the end of it all.”


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