Executive summary of the report

The workshop on “Future polarised labour markets, robots, and economic policy reforms" brought together academics, industry leaders and policymakers from economics and robotics to discuss how the recent advents in robotics impact specific industries and the labour market outcomes across the earnings distribution, and the appropriate policy reforms that should be considered.

The main findings from the workshop can be summarised as follows:

  • Automation has had a labour-replacing effect across OECD countries in the last four decades, and this affected lower skilled workers disproportionately.
  • This effect manifested itself due to the institutional framework: lower taxes on capital relative to labour incentivized companies (especially big-tech) to prefer labour-replacing technologies to labour enhancing ones.
  • Going forward, we need an improved role for governments and more international cooperation on automation related issues to ensure equitable effects and sharing of the gains brought about by technology.

The rest of the report discusses these findings, which we have divided into general and industry-specific components. This is accompanied by a series of interviews conducted on academics working on relevant issues.

The full report [robotics and economics policy report]

Introduction

Background and motivation

A 2017 policy report cautions that there are certain industries where more than 50% of the jobs can be replaced by automated machines that include robots. For instance, in the transport sector alone vehicle automation can affect 320,000 truck drivers in the UK and 3.2 million in the USA. A follow up report in 2019 also shows that these jobs disproportionately include women and minority ethnic communities.

Scope

To empower the affected communities, they should be given the opportunity to become active members of an inclusive robot-lead economy. For instance, how about an economy where also these communities can own, use, and profit from robotic technologies? In such an economy, people would be able to mortgage a robot, add value by training it to do a specialized task, and offer this as a service to industries that would benefit from not having to invest in machines or in their training. What if the government or the banking sector could come up with new economic models to launch a new economy of robot assisted self-employment?

From a robotics point of view, there is a major requirement to prepare for this economy. Human centred robots should open the opportunity to this kind of training, which could result in value added services in the industries that will see the highest level of automation. Furthermore, if new policy reforms can empower potentially affected people to take capital investment risk, the relevant industries will be relieved of the capital burden and will hopefully seek services from the self-employed robot owners.

This workshop will engage stakeholders including robotics researchers, policy makers, industries that are predicted to have a high degree of automation, economists, and government representatives to explore policy reforms to empower the affected segments of the labour force to shift focus on robot assisted self-employment.