Bots disrupt Whitehall with a 1/4million government jobs at risk. How?

When a recent report by The Reform think tank hit the headlines it claimed that bots could replace 250,000 public sector workers. The objective of this blog content is to educate and explain to the intended civil servant audience the impact of technology on their livelihoods.

It’s 2017 and public sector jobs could be replaced with technology within the next 15 years in the UK. Technology advancements are creating the opportunities to fundamentally change how the public sector operates to save billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. We could remove the need for some 130,000 Whitehall administrators, around 90% of the total, by 2030 which they claim will save he UK Government £2.6bn a year in the process. A further 90,000 NHS admin and 24,000 GP reception jobs could also be automated which would save £1.7bn a year. So what’s the social cost?

The report says public services should deliver outcomes that meet customer expectations of interacting via technology. For example, a third of people would prefer to book GP appointments online but only 10% have done so. It also highlights that using artificial intelligence technology can improve the accuracy of decision-making. Companies aim to develop artificial intelligence that can diagnose conditions more accurately than humans. New technology can also help job productivity. McKinsey estimates that 30% of nurses activities could be automated which would allow them to concentrate their expertise on non-automated tasks; looking after patients.

So what is this latest technology that can/could disrupt all these jobs?

Industry experts speculate that the next big developments in the technology world are bots, artificial intelligence or machine learning. A bot, in essence, is intelligence that is embedded on some form of hardware, like a smartphone, an electronic car or in the cloud. Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant are all examples of bots we could use in everyday life. Recent advancements in innovation across multiple industries and disciplines have created mass interest, and major investment, in bots.

“In order for bots to perform the desired actions, they must be trained using data — the more data, the better the bot.”

An infographic summarising the report on bots, AI and jobs.

But, what does this really mean, could technology really replace jobs in the public sector? Can artificial intelligence (AI) actually deliver public services?

Well, it is actually already happening in other countries across the world, with Japan and Singapore leading the way. The Singaporean government is pioneering the next generation of services, they have partnered with Microsoft to develop and implement intelligent software programmes known as chatbots.

The Japanese government stared a trial in the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry which will introduce AI to a assist civil servants drafting answers for ministers during parliamentary sessions. This isn’t aimed at reducing or cutting jobs but increasing the productivity, reducing the long working hours by retrieving the data of previous debates to aid their work.

Closer to home in the UK, NHS Trusts have 43% of Trusts investing in artificial intelligence, enabling patients to “self-help”.

The report states that the UK government /public sector should be making better use of the ‘gig economy’. A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. Uber the most common known example and in the medical world HomeTouch is the UK’s largest online care provider. A similar model could be replicated for locum doctors and supply teachers, which would save money on expensive agency fees and increase visibility, quality and transparency.

For the UK government to take full advantage of artificial intelligence it currently lacks critical IT, leadership, and commercial skills.

Whilst it is recognised that jobs will be lost due to automation, new higher skilled, better-paid and more fulfilling jobs will be created as a result. The UK government should follow the example of Singapore and Japan by forming partnerships with private sector and universities. Public sector workers should not fear technological change; we need to embrace this as the opportunity, if we don’t we will left behind as a workforce and as a nation.

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