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Bank’s chief economist warns of technological unemployment – is he right?

Written by NTN staff
21/08/18

Mass unemployment induced by technological change is a future the UK must prepare for rather than ignore, according to the Bank of England’s chief economic.

Here at Nat Tech, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation and are subjects close to our hearts (see for example http://nationaltechnology.co.uk/Automation-and-new-job-creation.php) and while numerous studies have been released looking at the impact of these forces on the workforce and society, yesterday one of the most senior figures in the UK economy weighed in on the debate. The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, told a BBC radio show that AI could threaten thousands of British jobs as machines take over qualified white collar workers.

“The first three revolutions have been largely about machines replacing humans doing manual task but the fourth will be different. All of a sudden it will be the machine replacing humans doing thinking things, as well as doing things,” said Haldane.

Unlike some doom-mongers, Haldane stopped short of predicting impending AI induced disaster but he said if a huge rise in unemployment is to be avoided then companies will have to expand in innovative ways to create new human jobs.

“The scale of job loss is likely to be at least as large as that of the first three industrial revolution. We will need greater numbers of new jobs to be created if we are not to suffer this longer term feature called technological unemployment,” Haldane added.

He left it as an open ended question, which it certainly is and a debate worth having. The Bank’s governor Mark Carney has previously also spoke about the threat of technology causing mass unemployment. Others see it as an opportunity to find more stimulating jobs for future employees and AI carry out more routine administrative tasks. Whether companies see the onset of (creative) AI as a positive or negative it is a future most will have to eventually think about and adapt to.