Will Automation Lead to Terrorism?
When you think of the word terrorism, it brings to light a certain image.
A man, quoting religious lines, preparing to detonate a suicide vest strapped to his chest. Or, a woman covering a machine gun with her clothes while entering a busy shopping mall.
But, what about unemployed French farmers blowing up bridges because their job is now done by a robot? Or, angry, laid off factory workers in Brazil attacking politicians because they didn’t protect their job from automation?
These aren’t the first scenarios (or populations) that come to mind when you think of terrorism. Will they soon be?
Around the world, automation is predicted to create chaos.
In the US, 80 million jobs are at risk from automation. In South Africa, over 50% of jobs are at risk from automation. In Germany, 51% of jobs are at risk, while in Canada 42% of jobs are at risk of being automated over the next 10–20 years.
Unemployment has been linked to terrorism in the past.
But, this link usually has to do with a specific part of the world, namely the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.
Automation isn’t limited to MENA. It will affect the entire world. Every country, regardless of their economic, geopolitical or social level, will be affected by robotics, artificial intelligence and more.
This will change the future of terrorism, and the risk automation creates for governments around the world.
When it comes to automation-fuelled terrorism, automation will displace all kinds of people. And these people are likely to fall into two groups (when it comes to radicalization) — those who are jobless and gravitate towards existing terrorist groups, like Al Qaeda or ISIS, or those who become jobless and create new terrorist groups.
Take Ethiopia for example. The biggest industry in Ethiopia is agriculture. And, in a study from Oxford, the industry with the highest risk of being affected by automation was agriculture. Because of this, an estimated 85% of jobs in Ethiopia are at risk of being automated, the highest automation risk in the world.
Compared to other African nations, Ethiopia has been largely successful in combating terrorism (as we know it). In fact, Ethiopia has done so well that when US President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia in 2015, he signalled an interest in learning from Ethiopia in this regard.
But, as Ethiopia takes steps to deal with traditional terrorism, from extremist groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and others, what about groups that can emerge from unemployed agriculture workers?
Ethiopia cannot afford to provide unemployment insurance, social assistance, job re-training and more to large swaths of the population who are vulnerable to have their job replaced by automation.
Therefore, these people are at risk of “being on their own”. Without income, these unemployed workers can grow angry.
Can these workers get together and create an extremist group, known as “United Freedom for Ethiopia” (UFE) and begin blowing up factories that deploy automation? Or, launch assaults on convenience stores and grocery stores to steal supplies and feed poor families?
Will such people be viewed as terrorists in the traditional sense, or in a different sense? How do you view them?
Responding to Automation
For governments struggling to formulate a strategy to deal with automation, the risk just became bigger. It is no longer just about making sure these “at risk” people have a job but also about making sure these people continue looking for a job and not “stray” towards other avenues, like terrorism.
Should governments create a formula for judging how “terrorist prone” a person who is laid-off because of automation is? Are males with families more likely to join terrorist groups? Or, are millennials between the ages of 18–28 more likely to become radicalized?
Currently, Jordan is facing a radicalization problem. Millennials, many of whom are out of work because of the declining job market and sluggish economic growth, are increasingly becoming radicalized.
To thwart this risk, the Jordanian government is moving to introduce schemes to help unemployed youth get back into the workforce and to support refugees integrating into society. A US$35 million fund has been launched to help youth start businesses and refugees, who are being looked at as a “development opportunity”, are being given work permits.
Perhaps, in preparation of job losses stemming from automation, governments in other countries can begin deploying innovative methods that motivate unemployed people, especially youth, to try something new, like launching a business and/or putting their skills to use in a different way.
At the same time, intelligence agencies need to start identifying how automation can lead to future terrorism. Agriculture workers in Ethiopia, truck drivers in the United States, factory workers in Brazil, are all examples of the kinds of people who can become future terrorists because of automation.
But, these are not the traditional groups intelligence agencies have focused on in the past. Therefore, without preparing for such groups becoming radicalized in the future, many agencies (and their countries) may be caught off-guard.
There is another aspect to this automation-leading to terrorism scenario. Can workers laid off from automation be used by foreign powers to create instability?
Take Germany, where 51% of jobs are at risk from automation.
Can a foreign country use a percentage of these unemployed people to create instability in Germany in order to de-rail the German economy and fracture the EU (and/or NATO)?
When it comes to mass unemployment, whether because of technological displacement, like automation or economic recession, like the crisis of 2008, the biggest fear is how governments will take care of these laid-off workers.
Now, there is another fear. Because automation is expected to lead to massive, unprecedented job losses in countries around the world, will automation lead to terrorism?