Actually, life’s going to be pretty sweet when a robot takes your job, economist predicts

Rob Waugh

Most predictions about the effects of AI on the workplace don’t make pleasant reading – with millions jobless and jackbooted Terminators ruling our planet forever.

But one economist says that while AI will have a massive impact on the workplace – and basically wipe out many current jobs – it won’t be all bad.

Speaking at the Starmus science conference, Professor Christopher Pissarides of the London School of Economics says the future may not be quite as dark as many predictions (and a lot of sci fi films) make out.

Basically, we’ll all have a bit more leisure time, as we work less hours per week (possibly around 26 hours, which sounds pretty sweet).

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Pissarides says, ‘On average countries with higher productivity work shorter hours – and that’s the case today. There’s a good correlation between labour productivity and weekly hours of work. Which means we’ll be working less.

And while jobs such as accountancy and taxi driving (and in fact any kind of driving job) are most definitely on the way out, there’ll be new jobs in leisure (because we’ll all have more spare time) and as carers, as our population ages still further.

Pissarides says, ‘As long as we don’t give all those jobs to the same people, then everyone will be employed. There will even be job creation in some sectors.’

All that’s needed, Pissarides says, is government action to ensure everyone shares in the benefits of an increasingly automated workforce.

‘There will be new jobs created as wealthier countries spend a bigger fraction on health,’ he says.

‘We need governments to make policy to distribute the benefits from automation. Taxation is a necessity. We need everyone to be paid a universal basic income. Then we can encourage the automation, and bring it in as much as we can. But we need government policy to do it – to ensure that people pay their taxes.’

Starmus festival, hosted by NTNU, Norway, Trondheim, www.starmus.com. Starmus is the world’s most ambitious science and arts festival with Professor Stephen Hawking as keynote speaker, 11 Nobel laureates and Buzz Aldrin, Oliver Stone, Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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