Editor's Blog

Robots for members?

If history tells us anything it’s that humans are bad at making predictions. So we should take with a pinch of salt the more alarming prophecies around automation and its likely effect on the workforce. Those who fear a world run by robots (while humans become redundant lumps of flesh, gorging on daytime telly and Pot Noodles) forget that technology tends to create as well as replace jobs.

But complacency at this stage could be disastrous.  According to the UK-based Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a third of jobs, mostly concentrated in low-skill sectors, are at risk from automation in the next two decades, and this ‘robot revolution’ will affect those least able to adapt to change. We simply cannot afford to take a ‘wait and see’ approach - unless we’re happy with the idea of mass unemployment and people idly wondering how to spend their subsistence allowance.

This is not futuristic stuff, either: it’s happening now. Take air travel as an example. Bar a quick frisk down at security, it is now entirely possible to board a commercial flight without interacting with another human. We can order our flights online; choose our seats online; check in online; print our boarding cards online. At the airport, once a camera has read our number plate, we can park our cars without the help of an attendant. In some airports we can drop our luggage off, print out our luggage tags, and wave goodbye to our belongings without speaking to another person, too.

This technological change should be front of mind for associations, particularly those whose members work in sectors that are most at threat from automation.  Retraining or ‘upskilling’ the workforce to help those whose jobs are lost to technology will be crucial if we are to avoid worst-case scenarios, and associations, through their certification programmes, will have a vital role to play.

But associations have to be thinking about this now. Their approach to this challenge must be proactive – not reactive.  If they wait to see what happens, it will be too late. The jobs will be gone and so will their entire purpose.  They will simply be swept away by events. Associations should be thinking big – and strategically - about the future, maybe employing someone whose sole purpose is to ensure the organisation is ahead of the curve. Chief Futurist, perhaps.  Or Chief Survivalist. 

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  • Sally Greenhill 05/06/2017 Of: The Right Solution

    Excellent article James. McKinseys published a report that said 50% of tasks could be done by robots but only 5% of them could be done completely. But i totally agree and hope that planning for the future involves our economists and politicians (or more importantly those who advise politicians) running scenarios with assumptions based on automation of many tasks and what jobs are then needed from real people.

    The current backlash to globalisation and protectionism that is being seen around the world could get a lot worse and that's a scary thought.

  • Anonymous User 09/06/2017

    In the long term (god knows how long) - Automation is a massive threat to not only our way of life, but potentially to our very existence. if you think further ahead, then is there not a massive threat that instead of the 95% being out of work, there would be no reason or inclination for the 5/1% to have us around at all - being a blight on the environment and a strain on natural resources. When food production is automated and the production of everything they could want is automated, then we are not needed at all! A doomsday scenario - maybe, but as you say, better to have eyes open. If mine is a far fetched (far forward thinking) suggestion, then I think the assumption of a pinch of salt is wrong. The changes that automation will usher in - will be so massive that it will require a whole reconstruction of the economic and political systems - of the world - not just the UK.

    Re Creation of new types of jobs. Yeah I have heard this argument before, that technology frees us up to do previously unimagined new jobs! Not saying it's not true in theory and there definitely will be some - but not on the scale our sized population will need. There was a lady on TV the other day whose job was Twerk Instructor. No lie! And how many of them do we need?

    A final - scary - point is - "You can't stop progress" - You really can't! (See story about the Chinese mine work scheme in Martin Ford's - Rise of the Robots and the threat of mass unemployment)

  • Henrik von Arnold 09/06/2017 Of: ENITED Business Events

    Interesting article indeed. You can talk/read/listen to 10 different people (or "experts") and youäll have 10 different answers. Everything from "new eras change living and working conditions for many, many people, but somehow we all get something usefull to do in the end" to "AI and robots are the end of everything".
    If you read (and if you haven't, read it)the book Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari, claims that we will see a new partition of people: the necessary ones and the unnecessery ones.It sounds horrible, but already now the discussions on a citizen's salary has started, and Finland and Canada are making try-outs already. So we very well end up with the majoriy of the people having no occupation, and not beeing a part of the society's struggle to achieve economic growth. But there may develop other means of growth and development?
    Or do we end up with the necessary people being some kind of outcasts or slaves to the unnecessary people?
    And yes, we also have to address this issues within the meetings industry. Are we a part of the necessary or unnecessary people?

    PS Before reading Homo Deaus, read Sapiens; A Brief History of Humankind by the same author. You won't regret it.