Jeremy Corbyn has called for a robot tax on companies who replace workers with robots. At first this might seem like a Daily Mail story but it is true and it is important.
The introduction of mass automation is going to change the way we live and work, and unlike other recent technology changes it will challenge jobs across all levels of society. The biggest threat will not be to the manual worker but to the information worker.
The information worker is middle class, mid to high earning, the squeezed middle is about to get a whole lot more squeezed.
A solicitor is essential for many transactions, whether buying a house or drafting agreements between two companies. But with AI you could have a resource that has access to hundreds of thousands of contracts, legal precedents and rulings, a life time of a solicitors knowledge but at a touch of a button. At first this will be used to help solicitors be more efficient but it is just a matter of time before a service is provided without human intervention. Then what is a solicitor going to do?
That is just one example of the threat to income of the middle class.
The newer industries like the technology sector, who will embrace the new tech the first, will also be hit. We are teaching our kids to code but coding won’t be done by humans in 10 years. Nor will solution architects be designing server deployments, AI will work out the best configuration over multiple platforms and deploy it in minutes.
If automation replaces thinking and not just manual process what will the middle class do? How will they afford to live? How will we maintain income tax receipts which pay for our national infrastructure.
AI, robotics, machine learning brings many benefits but unchecked it could destroy the fabric of society.
To embrace this technology without looking at its socio-economic impact is not foolish, it is dangerous.
If you remove the income for a lorry driver through self driving vehicles, a salesman through quote to cash automation, a brick layer through a machine that can work 10 times faster without tea breaks, a GP with self diagnosis tools, we don’t just have higher unemployment we have a fundamental change in the structure of our society.
Unemployed people have been vilified, they are branded as scroungers but when middle class professional jobs are lost this rhetoric will change. When highly skilled, high paid professionals have no chance of regaining their income and their status in society we will no longer think that the unemployed are lazy and feckless. They will not be them, they will be us.
Universal basic income will be introduced to lessen this impact. But the long term effect on the economy will transform how we see ourselves.
A new generatiin of home owners will be impossible because of inflated property markets and wide spread low income. So there will be a need for large scale social housing projects.
The way we judge the worth of an individual may change, more value may be placed on social engagement and the arts if we no longer judge on the things we buy and own, when the builder and banker are on the same income status symbols may be creative out put not a shiny new Tesla.
Taxation is just one aspect of this change, and it’s good that mainstream politicians are speaking about it now. We do not have decades to discuss this, we need to think now.
Old economic models simply won’t work. There needs to be a new model, a new socialism if you will, not based on ideas of long dead thinkers but built on the ideas of the living for the living and for the future living.
Over the coming months this series will explore the impact of AI, robotics and machine learning on our society and it will lay out the case for a new economic model that will change the shape of our society.