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Could advances in technology like big data, machine learning and robotics replace jobs faster than new ones can be created? How should we understand the impact of automation on the labour market? And how should government and society respond?

In the first in a series of podcasts exploring the big shifts which are underway in the nature of work Matthew Taylor is joined by Michael Osborne, Ryan Avent and Judy Wajcman to discuss how we should understand the impact of automation and what if anything governments should do to respond.

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Michael Osborne is Co-Director of the Oxford Martin programme on Technology and Employment. In a widely cited study in 2013 he estimated 47 per cent of US occupations have a high risk of being automated. Here he describes how the potential of machines to displace human occupations continues apace and argues the distributional consequences must be addressed. He says we mustn’t turn our backs on these technologies which can raise productivity and contribute to solving our biggest challenges like climate change.

Ryan Avent, is a senior editor at The Economist joins us from Washington. In his recent book, The Wealth of Humans, he explains how automation is not expressed as mass unemployment but through workers increasingly being pushed into low skilled jobs. In the short term efforts focused on re-training and investing in job creation in infrastructure and housing can delay the transition, but in the long term he argues we need a new social settlement and “the industrial revolution suggests that it’s going to be a very bumpy ride”.

Judy Wajcman, Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics explores the way we blame digital technologies for making us busier in her book Pressed for Time: the acceleration of life in digital capitalism. She argues whether it’s making us busier or stealing our jobs it’s not the technologies fault but has more to do with the social relations that they’re a part of. She is critical of the way the debate about automation takes place as if technology had its “own independent drive” and we should instead ask the more fundamental questions about the type of society we want to live in and then think how technology can be harnessed for the benefit of everyone.


In the next episode Anthony Painter will explore whether a universal basic income is the best response to the new world of work and how this policy idea became an ideological battleground.

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