Unlike previous revolutions in industrialisation, artificial intelligence will disrupt jobs higher up the value chain, David Young, the former secretary state of employment, has warned.
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Addressing an audience at the CogX AI event in London this week, he said the effect of AI on employment needs to be addressed now. “We must not condemn people to being out of work. We have to create an entrepreneurial society.”
In one working lifetime, the number of working hours has halved.
“Imagine now the soulless job of writing out invoices,” he said. This was liberated by technology in the 1950s. When technology began entering factories in the 1960s, a computer-controlled lathe did the work of eight workers.
“When you have Amazon being able to deliver on the same day, it’s changing the way we shop,” said Young. “AI will make a major difference. For example, once we have autonomous cars, we won’t need 80% of cars. They won’t be owned any more, which will lead to big changes in manufacturing.”
Young said AI will never truly replace the need for real people, which means society will need to reassess certain job functions in the care sector that have traditionally been considered low-paid.
“I’ve heard a lot of tosh about machines taking over the healthcare industry,” he said. “Could AI deliver the illogicity of humanity? People will not put up with a soulless machine. People want someone to complain to.”
Mankind needs a purpose
“I had to deal with soaring unemployment in the 1980s, as technology replaced jobs,” said Young, referring to his role as employment secretary in the Thatcher government. “Those people who lost their jobs were getting just as much on benefits. Most of the jobs that have been lost are the miserable ones. Technology has to get rid of the nasty jobs.”
Despite the efficiencies of the internet, there are now millions more jobs. Young said that 22 million people were in employment in the 1980s. “Now there are 30 million.” The growth, he said, is thanks to startups.
While in government, Young was responsible for the first of the UK programmes to help people create small firms. There is now a strong UK startup economy. “Since the 2008 financial crash, we have developed the best startup rate – better than the US,” he said.
Web giants, however, can clearly force change and influence markets. “We may have a problem if the Googles and Amazons of this world get into everything, but government has the ability to regulate.”
Young said the UK’s education system is broken. “We have an education system that is good for the top 20%. The whole process is about cutting people down and telling them they are thick. We have to encourage people do more practical activities. Knowledge is less important. What is more important is trying to do things.”