What once sounded like science fiction is quickly becoming reality. Robots are stealing our jobs.
Those of us who have worked in zero hour contract jobs have long been aware of the labour market squeeze designed to look like progress. What started with a mechanised assembly line turned into self-service tills and automated online booking systems and now threatens to go further still. There are now reports that a Japanese firm are replacing 34 workers with an AI.
This is something that, soon, not even the metropolitan elite will be able to ignore. Companies will replace large sections of the workforce with a machine, because they are cheaper to run and require fewer days off. The only jobs that will be left will be the jobs making sure the robots are working to their full potential. Logic dictates that there’ll be a robot for that job too, eventually.
The self-service till at a large supermarket is the best example of this phenomenon. Designed on the pretence of consumer ease and speed, anyone who never wants to hear the phrase, ‘bagging area’, ever again will know only too well how thin a veil this is. The real reason is simple.
For every machine, you hire one fewer employee. Despite the initial expense of the machine, they are cheaper in the long run and request fewer workers’ rights. How is a human to compete? Either by bowing to the pressures of poor wages, or forgoing their rights. Or both. Anyone who has been forced by their workplace to sign a waiver to their rights under the working time directive to work for the minimum wage will know this all too well.
The pace of this development has become staggering. Amazon, all in the name of progress, of course, are leading the way. Developing flying warehouses, delivering goods on drones and creating supermarkets where there are exclusively unstaffed checkouts. The British Retail Consortium has predicted that there will be a loss of almost a million retail jobs by 2025.
That announcement was made even before the Amazon concept was announced. The scale of losses could be far greater. The IPPR have warned that two-thirds of current jobs – 15 million – were at risk from “exponential” improvements in new technologies, such as artificial intelligence systems. We must act to secure employment for the future.
Any attempt to myth-bust this truth is treated as regressive, as if standing up for workers’ rights is, in fact, standing in the way of progress. Another response is disbelief. A ‘double think’ that this dystopian vision will never happen. Or worse, it may happen, but I work in a ‘skilled’ field so it will never happen to me.
Now, more than ever, the workers of the world must unite. They must unite in the knowledge that if they do not do so then eventually their job will be lost forever to robotics. The failure, at this integer, to develop an industrial strategy that adequately deals with the automotisation of the workforce will see millions out of work. An answer must be found soon, preferably before a robot works it out.