Get ready for a fourth industrial revolution

You’re fired: One study estimates that 800 million jobs will be lost to robots by 2030.

Should we embrace or fear the robot revolution? The Bank of England’s chief economist has warned of the need to take drastic measures to stop millions of people falling victim to AI.

In the last few years, Amazon has started test driving drone deliveries. A robot has passed a university entrance exam. Some robots might even be able to tell if you are gay.

In the next 20 years, it is estimated that 99% of jobs in telesales will be done by robots, according to Oxford University. If you work on a farm, there is a three in four chance that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace you. Even writers and painters may not be immune.

Yesterday, the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, warned that to avoid “large swathes” of people becoming “technologically unemployed” as AI begins to replace jobs, the UK will need a skills revolution.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Haldane predicted that the disruption caused by the AI revolution could be “on a much greater scale” than anything felt during the First Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th century. He added that the risk of people being left behind as computers and robots change the way we work was “huge”.

The term “fourth industrial revolution” was popularised by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum. The first revolution saw agrarian, rural societies become industrial and urban. The iron and textile industries, as well as the invention of steam power, played a key role in this major change.

The second came around the turn of the 20th century, a period of growth for pre-existing industries and expansion of new ones. Electric power enabled mass production, rendering millions of jobs obsolete.

The third was the digital revolution. The age of computers, the internet and the mobile phone, transforming traditional production and business techniques.

These times of upheaval all saw “a hollowing out of the jobs market”, as Haldane puts it. “That heightened social tensions, it heightened financial tensions, it led to a rise in inequality.”

As a new technological wave breaks over society, people will have to adapt fast.

But will the positives of these changes outweigh the negatives?

Terminated

Humanity is totally unprepared for this, say some. The Israeli writer Yuval Noah Harari predicts that the robot revolution will create a class of almost god-like humans with immense power, while the rest of us are left with nothing to do with our time. There is already huge anger at wealth inequality in modern societies. That would only increase.

But there would be new jobs to create and maintain this technology, argue others. Tabitha Goldstaub, chair of the Artificial Intelligence Council, predicts that “boring, mundane, unsafe” jobs will go, adding that “there could be some element of liberation from some of these jobs and a move towards a brighter world.”

You Decide

  1. Think of your dream job. Could a robot do it?
  2. Will robots really take over the world of work?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are the head of a robotics company and have been asked to design a new robot to do a specific job. What will your robot look like? How would it do its job?
  2. Some economists believe that “universal basic income” could help mitigate the jobs lost because of the robot revolution. Research what this is, and write 500 words on whether you think it is a good idea.

Some People Say...

“Our worst comes out when we behave like robots.”

Fernando Flores

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The robot revolution is not some futuristic pipe dream; it is already happening. Thousands of jobs in retail and manufacturing have already been lost to machines, and this will continue into the future. The reason is simple: robots have many advantages over humans. They do not sleep, they do not get paid and, often, they make fewer mistakes than humans.
What do we not know?
Just how fast this will all happen. In any field, it has to be proved beyond much reasonable doubt that robots are both safe and more efficient than humans. We also do not know how far this will go. Will robots eventually start building their own robots? Will robots always be the servants of humans?

Word Watch

Passed a university entrance exam
In 2017, a robot scored in the top 20% of students taking the entrance exams for the highly prestigious University of Tokyo. Professor Noriko Arai, of Japan’s National Institute of Informatics, had been training her robot for the test for years.
Bank of England
The central bank of the United Kingdom. It is responsible for managing the country’s currency, money supply and interest rates, and overseeing the commercial banking system.
World Economic Forum
A Swiss foundation that hosts a yearly summit in Davos — a meeting of the world’s top businessmen, economists and politicians.
Expansion of new ones
The steel and oil industries expanded hugely during the Second Industrial Revolution.
Yuval Noah Harari
Harari outlined his theory in his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Dvir, 2015).