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Looking globally: the future of education
Looking globally: the future of education

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2 What do we mean when we talk about automation?

Carl-Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, of Oxford University, calculated that 47% of existing jobs in America are susceptible to automation (Frey & Osborne, 2013).

Activity 2 Will there still be jobs for people?

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

Follow the link to watch the video Humans need not apply [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (2014). Although the video is 15 minutes long, the first couple of minutes will be enough to scope the likely changes ahead.

The underlying message of the video is that in the relatively near future there will be very few jobs as we understand them. However, other commentators are not so negative. Tom Malone, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of The Future of Work (2004) is more positive, stating that the history of other technological transitions gives cause for optimism. He says; ‘In every single case where people have worried about that, in the long run just as many jobs were created as destroyed’ (Malone, 2004).

Think about:

  • Do you agree with the opinions in the video, or with Tom Malone?
  • Can you think of an example of where the development of technology has led to the creation of a new set of jobs, rather than a loss?

Various industries are already affected by automation, or are about to be.

Activity 3 The impact of automation on employment

Timing: Allow approximately 60 minutes
  1. Listen to the first five minutes of The Public Philosopher’s Would life be better if robots did all the work? (2017) to hear people’s views on the type and impact of automation on employment. Consider the range of tasks and jobs which are already being affected, from self-service grocery tills to robotised phone calls, and those which are likely to be affected in the future, from self-driving cars negating the need for taxi drivers to medical imagery analysis and diagnostics reducing the workload of healthcare professionals.
  2. Find an image which you think represents the impact of automation on employment. This might be an image of your own or an image found which can be shared more widely through creative commons licensing (see our Finding copyright-cleared images guide for more information on this). The image might be a job you can imagine being automated, a job which is now automated but was carried out by humans, or an image which represents how you feel about the question posed by the Public Philosopher in the extract of the debate you listened to. Post your image in the OpenStudio gallery (for guidance on this, see Using OpenStudio), and include a comment with your thoughts.