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Robot, waiter, artisan baker: Three new classes of worker for the digital age

Britain’s old blue collar-white collar divide could be swept aside by the robot revolution as three new classes of worker rise to dominate careers in the future.
Industries will be utterly shaken up by artificial intelligence, the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane believes, with new technology potentially replacing human workers on a scale “larger than ever previously”.
Past industrial revolutions have given routine manual jobs to machines, freeing up humans to do tasks with more cognitive skills, boosting productivity and living standards. But intelligent machines threaten this.
“In the century ahead, those skill-shifts may be about to go into reverse,” Mr Haldane told the Guild Society at the University of Oxford.
“To see why, we need to ask ourselves what sets of humans skills robots are likely to find it hardest to reproduce and replace in the period ahead. My reading of the runes is that there are three areas where humans are likely to preserve some comparative (if not always absolute) advantage over robots for the foreseeable future.”
Robot, waiter, artisan baker: Three new classes of worker for the digital age

Andy Haldane believes people will have to rely on those skills they have which robots do not – creativity, intuition and emotional intelligence

Credit:
Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
In this new world one class will work with robots. A second will be artisans, making luxury goods and services in a world dominated by mass roboticised production. The third will use the remaining key advantage over robots – social skills and emotional intelligence, in leisure and caring jobs.
Human intelligence will still have a place, Mr Haldane said. Artificial intelligence is good at sifting through huge datasets and incrementally solving problems. But human “creativity and intuition” is needed for “tasks or problems whose solutions require great logical leaps of imagination rather than step-by-step hill-climbing”.
People are also going to be needed to programme and oversee the machines. The second category represents a return to a structure before the first industrial revolution.
“A rise in global wealth and income is likely to create an increasing demand for luxury goods and services of this type, whose characteristics are unique and supply constrained,” Mr Haldane said.
Robot, waiter, artisan baker: Three new classes of worker for the digital age

Previously robots have taken dangerous and repetitive manual jobs. But intelligent machines represent a completely different threat to human workers

Credit:
OLI SCARFF/AFP
“Indeed, this can be seen already in the rising demand and price of rare art and artefacts and independently-produced foodstuffs and beverages. To meet this demand, [Bank of England Governor] Mark Carney has spoken about the re-emergence of a new artisan class. If so, this would mark something of a return to our pre-industrial revolution future.”
The final category could see the biggest growth, he believes.
Robots are likely to struggle to show sympathy and empathy, or to build teams or negotiate effectively – and people may not want to be served or cared for by a machine.
Robot, waiter, artisan baker: Three new classes of worker for the digital age

Artisans such as this small-batch craft distiller could represent an important growing class of worker, as demand for luxury goods – without robots and mass production – climbs

Credit:
Bruce Schreiner/AP
“The future could see a world of work in which EQ rivals IQ for skill supremacy,” the chief economist said.
“Professions involving high degrees of personal and social interaction – such as health, caring, education and leisure – could see demand rise.”
He cites medicine as an example, where artificial intelligence could remove much of the need for diagnosis and prescribing.
Instead, doctors’ key role could be to discuss the case with patients, so bedside manner can become more important.
To meet this huge shift without causing mass unemployment, Mr Haldane calls for a radical overhaul of British education.
Universities should become “multiversities”, he said, teaching “a balanced mix of cognitive, technical and social skills” rather than purely cognitive training.
The jobs being overtaken by robots: in pictures
They must also abandon the traditional focus on the young, instead acknowledging that this shift will require retraining for people of all ages.
This is not just a one-off shift, as a person born today can expect to live to 100, resulting in a 60- or 70-year working life, which Mr Haldane sees leading two several careers per person, each requiring different skills.
Businesses too should be brought into the loop.
The productivity crisis currently is in part caused by a failure of a large proportion of British firms to adopt new technologies and management practices.
Spreading these through small and mid-sized businesses via universities – or multiversities – could help the UK emulate the more successful German Mittelstand, he said.
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