Bank of England's chief economist warns that AI could take many jobs

  • img Harvey Cawdron
  • POSTED ON 20 Aug 2018


Today, the Bank of England's chief economist implied that Britain could face social issues as robots take 'swathes' of jobs. 

Andy Haldane said that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will see 'the machine replacing humans doing thinking things'. He said that there could be disruption at a much larger scale than in Victorian times, with areas such as accountancy among those at risk of an AI takeover. 

The message came amid a request for a huge skills drive to find employment for those set to feel the impact of the next wave of automaton. 

Haldane told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that 'The first three industrial revolutions have been about largely machines replacing humans doing principally manual tasks, whereas the fourth will be different. All of a sudden it will be the machine replacing humans doing thinking things, as well as doing things.' 

Haldane said that the 'hollowing out' in the past could occur on a much greater scale in the future. 

The Bank's Governor, Mark Carney, previously made similar comments regarding the large-scale technological disruption to the jobs market. 

Haldane added that 'Given that the scale of job loss, job displacement is likely to be at least as large as that of the first three industrial revolutions, we will need even greater numbers of new jobs to be created in the future if we are not to suffer this longer term feature called technological unemployment. It has not been a feature of the past, but could it possibly be a feature of the future? I think that is a much more open question than at any previous point possibly in history.'

He also said that it was essential to learn the 'lessons of history' and make certain that people  were given training to take advantage of new opportunities. He highlighted the fact that in the past, a safety net such as new welfare benefits had been created as well. 

Haldane said that the previous industrial revolutions had a 'wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society. He further said that 'Jobs were effectively taken by machines of various types, there was a hollowing out of the jobs market, and that left a lot of people for a lengthy period out of work and struggling to make a living'. He deemed this the 'dark side' of industrial revolutions.

He added 'That heightened social tensions, it heightened financial tensions, it led to a rise in inequality. This is the dark side of technological revolutions and that dark-side has always been there. That hollowing out is going to be potentially on a much greater scale in the future, when we have machines both thinking and doing - replacing both the cognitive and the technical skills of humans.'

Haldane said that professions like accountancy will be the most severely effected by the rise of AI, but he thought that economists will escape largely unscathed. 

Tabitha Goldstaub, chair of the newly formed Artificial Intelligence Council, said that this revolution could also lead to the creation of many new opportunities alongside the challenges. She said that ' What we have to think about is the time in which this change is happening, and it is definitely happening quicker than ever before. The challenge we have now is ensuring our workforce is ready for that change.'

She further remarked 'What are the new jobs that will be created whether those are in building new technology, maintaining the new technology or collaborating with the new technology? There is a hopeful view [based] on the fact that a lot of these jobs [that disappear] are boring, mundane, unsafe, drudgery - there could be some element of liberation from some of these jobs and a move towards a brighter world. Now that's not going to be an easy journey, but I do believe there is hope at the end of it all.'