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Every new technological revolution brings with it the same existential question about the future of work: is a robot going to take my job? In the past, it was the relatively routine work in agriculture, manufacturing and the service sector that got replaced by physical machines, robots and computers. 

But today, well-paid roles in finance, tech and publishing are at most risk of disruption, and not from physical machines, but digital ones: artificial and remote intelligence.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are now exponential, and it is not just their pace that we need to be aware of, but also the breadth of their application. 

Many of these developments are to be welcomed. They have the potential to make the world of work more productive. Teachers are using AI to create work plans and personalise learning, lawyers are piloting it to automate and enhance contract analysis, due diligence and regulatory compliance and developers are using it to auto-generate new software code.

But there are concerns too. Millions of professional service jobs could be at risk of automation. GPT4 can learn to trick humans, making online fraud and harassment easier and more widespread, autonomous AI bots can be used to undermine national security, and this is all before we get to the potential for super-intelligent, God-like AI that poses catastrophic risks for humanity.

Fifty years ago, the development of the first silicon microchips transformed computing power and ultimately kickstarted the ICT revolution, leading to rapid deindustrialisation through the 1970s and 1980s. While we were quick to embrace the productivity power of new technologies, we did not do enough to help individuals and their communities adapt to the new realities – that meant manual and clerical jobs were automated or offshored overnight. 

Half a century on, recent developments in AI suggest this wave of technology may be different, as AI systems are capable of automating the non-routine tasks of white-collar workers. The UK’s high-productivity services sector could be threatened by AI, with the potential to push down the global cost of these services by making it easier and quicker to provide them by competitors across the world. But this time, we have the chance to learn from our past mistakes.

Goldman Sachs recently forecast that around 24 million jobs in the UK will be exposed to automation, and that 25% of work tasks could be automated with existing AI technology. Other studies suggest jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree could be most affected, with over 30% of them expected to have at least 50% of their tasks exposed to large language models such as GPT4. 

Indeed, AI is already disrupting the jobs market. It is being used to determine gig workers’ pay and hours, and to hire, monitor and manage office workers. BT and IBM are among the companies that have announced that tens of thousands of employee roles will be replaced by AI, with BT planning to replace 10,000 roles and IBM planning to replace 7,800. Examples of highly exposed jobs include information services, finance, publishing and telecommunications. We are highly dependent on services and creative exports — areas already being disrupted by generative AI and easily automatable under the even more sophisticated artificial general intelligence (AGI).

To ensure AI is a tool to support workers and not a threat to their jobs, the Government must focus on three areas. 

First, it must produce regular reports – potentially powered by AI – forecasting the expected impact of AI on the domestic and global jobs market. 

Second, an AI training fund is needed to incentivise business and support people to learn to use AI as a productivity tool in their daily jobs or help them retrain for new roles. This training should be delivered by AI-enabled personalised learning and a digital learner ID that links formal and informal qualifications. 

Third, the Government ought to introduce a new era of digital workers’ rights that enable businesses and workers to use tech to support their wellbeing and productivity. 

It is easy to dismiss new tech as a passing fad: web3, NFTs and crypto each were the future once. However, AI has the potential to be radically different, affecting everything, everywhere, all at once. The tech revolution is happening to our economy, to our jobs and to our politics, whether we are prepared for it or not. We can benefit from it, but only if we act with intent.


Jeegar Kakkad is the Director of Future of Britain Policy at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

This article was published in the latest edition of Centre Write. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Bright Blue. 

Read more from our August 2023 Centre Write magazine, ‘Back to business?’ here.