What does automation mean for the economy of tomorrow?
Across the world, algorithms, mechanisation, and various forms of artificial intelligence (AI) are shaping the decisions of employers, and changing the daily realities of employees. Just as the Industrial Revolution saw chain production specialise - and limit - workers’ activity, so has the integration of computers in companies’ functioning debunked the old correlation between value and manpower. When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, the company only had 13 souls working for it. This time last year, consultancy firm McKinsey announced it would conduct a study over several years investigating the effect automation might have on our jobs and production methods. It predicted that automation would foster a new creativity and meaning in the workplace, change the occupations classed as high-wage, and utterly redefine jobs and business processes. Moreover, the specialist consensus is that about half of today’s work activities could be automated thanks to demonstrated technologies. An extra 13% of US jobs could also be robotised once language-processing mechanisms achieve median levels of human performance.
It comes as no surprise, then, that recent years have seen a profusion of discussions on how AI will impact our future. In 2014, Yuval Noah Harari, a University of Jerusalem lecturer, published a bestseller announcing the creation of a new, “useless” class, made up of people whose jobs would disappear. Since then, countless editorials have been written on the end of the job market as we know it, and many a utopian has proclaimed the age of comfortable inactivity to be around the corner. But will machines’ increasing independence challenge humans’ sense of purpose, and disrupt traditional roles? If we are to take science-fiction author William Gibson at his word - “the future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet” - we must decide what ‘evenness’ means.
A storm of controversy has been stoked after photographs emerged of police in Nice ordering a Muslim woman on the beach to remove items of clothing following a burqini ban in 15 French towns. But is it right for governments to decide what a woman should, or should not wear? Some, especially in Western society, see the burqa as a tool of oppression against women. But for others, governments banning the clothing some Muslim women wear is an infringement of personal freedoms and, in Western society, an Islamophobic measure. Should it be up to the state to decide?
Three years after promising a referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron announced in late February that Britain will go to the polls on June 23 to answer the question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" If voters opt to leave, it will have profound consequences not only for the UK but for the EU and transatlantic relations. The EU is already embattled and a divorce with its second-largest economy and second most populous member state - albeit one which has always had a troubled relationship with the bloc - could inflict grave damage. The US has declared a "profound interest" in a very strong UK staying in a strong EU. Within Britain, the debate is already fierce and being fought on five main fronts: Migration, the economy, security, Britain's global influence and sovereignty.