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Bank of England economist warns thousands of UK jobs at risk from robots and AI

Manual jobs are most at risk from the rise of new technology, although some new jobs could be created as a result of the coming industrial revolution

Caitlin Morrison
Monday 20 August 2018 07:57 BST
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The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, has warned that artificial intelligence and machines have the potential to make a huge number of jobs obsolete, with thousands of UK workers facing unemployment due to new technology.

Mr Haldane told the BBC that the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” would be on a “much greater scale” than the previous three, and said the UK will need a skills revolution to avoid unemployment on a mass scale.

He said that previous industrial revolutions had “a wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society”.

“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 said.

“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.”

Mr Haldane added: “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.”

The economist said some jobs will be created as a result of the new technology, with roles that focus on human interaction, face-to-face conversation and negotiation becoming more important, while simple manual jobs will be more at risk.

He also said: “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 for the future? I think that is a much more open question than any previous point, possibly, in history.”

Earlier this year, the think tank Centre for London warned that almost one-third of jobs in London have high potential to be carried out by machines within the next 20 years. In a study published in April, Centre for London said the wholesale, retail, transportation, storage, accommodation and food sectors – which collectively employ a million people in the capital – would be particularly hard hit.

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