Mark Carney is right; the robots are coming – but that doesn't mean we should fear them

 
Kit Cox
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Fully Automated Fast Food Restaurant Opens In San Francisco
It’s not only about what can be automated, but what consumers are comfortable with being automated. (Source: Getty)

On Tuesday governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned that up to 15m British jobs could be replaced by robots amid a merciless technological revolution.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement sent headline writers into delirium and administrative staff up and down the country into a state of pre-Christmas anxiety rivaled only by that of a Saturday shopping trip down Oxford Street.

It’s not the first time he’s sounded such a warning either. Earlier this year Carney said that many of the industries we are now familiar with “will be gone tomorrow”.

On the surface, he’s painting a scary picture based on the rising speed of technological change, making it difficult for young people to choose a career and therefore plan their lives. However, it’s hard to argue against his reasoning.

Automate

The fact is, if a process is repetitive, it is automatable. This is far from some kind of socio-economic armageddon. The increasing use of robots should be looked on with excitement and opportunity rather than fear.

Today, jobs like the milkman are almost extinct and, while lamented in a few small corners, are not missed.

This is because alternative jobs have replaced them.

The same applies to today’s equivalent in the administrative and clerical professions and, let’s face it, few will shed a tear over fewer estate agents on our high streets.

For the next 15 to 20 years we will be augmenting humans, not replacing them. A lot of traditional middle-class jobs will change radically, but that doesn’t mean they will disappear altogether.

Freedom

It means many will split to be either human or research facing, with decision-making being done by machines.

If deployed correctly, businesses will use robots for the jobs that are easily automated, freeing people from repetitive and mundane tasks to focus on work they find more stimulating and engaging.

We are still at an early stage in what is the biggest and most influential revolution of our time. But automation will bring with it a plethora of new jobs like “drone pilot” and “robot teacher”, which will create a new workforce.

Educate

It’s not only about what can be automated, but what consumers are comfortable with being automated. For example, why do we continue to buy expensive coffee from shops when it is possible for machines to make it for a fraction of the cost, time and resource? The drive to automate will be strongly facilitated by what we want machines to do versus what we actually want humans to do.

This means focusing on managing how robots and humans can work together to deliver the best services that people are comfortable with.

To do this, we need a radical overhaul in our education system to build a future workforce fit for purpose.

Currently, we are educating children to be professionals in the twentieth century where retention and cross reference of large volumes of knowledge has been deemed essential, but will become largely redundant this century.

Children need to learn how to create, empathise, imagine and cooperate to a much greater degree than they are currently able to.

These are the most human of human skills, and will be the last that automation approaches.

It is impossible to accurately predict how many jobs will evolve to be done by robots, but the statement from Carney is a timely reminder that automation is the greatest social challenge for our age, and we need to be having a serious nationwide conversation about it.

Kit Cox is chief executive of Enate.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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