How automation technologies can damage worker wellbeing

In the emerging world of robotics, artificial intelligence and algorithmic systems, there will be losers as well as winners, warns the Pissarides Review, a new British report on the future of work

Will automation technologies transform or degrade the future of work for millions of people in the UK? That’s the question asked by the Pissarides Review into the Future of Work and Wellbeing, a three-year collaboration between the Institute for the Future of Work, Imperial College London and Warwick Business School, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The Pissarides Review aims to build a better future of work by improving our understanding of the impacts of automation technologies such as AI, robotics and algorithmic systems on work, society and the economy.

At a critical junction

Sir Christopher Pissarides introduced early insights from his Review at a special launch event held at the Nuffield Foundation on 29 March 2022. A launch report highlights that we are at a critical juncture in which there is a need to re-examine the changing nature and role of work for people and society in relation to automation. Five key trends emerged from the study which paint a picture of growing concern over its effects on fairness, quality of work, health and wellbeing in the UK:

Innovation is not leading to improvements in job quality. The UK’s rate of innovation has slowed over recent decades, and early evidence suggests that a greater focus is needed on societal impact and human complementarity in the development of automation technologies.

The adoption of automation is uneven across the UK. Capital-intensive technologies tend to be more concentrated in particular geographic areas and less integrated into local economies. To date, there appears to be less ‘trickle down’ of the benefits and opportunities of technology than in past industrial revolutions.

‘There is less “trickle down” of the benefits of technology than in past industrial revolutions…’

Labour market inequalities are growing. Although some studies have predicted a reduction in labour market polarisation as a result of automation, current evidence points to ongoing polarisation between high-skill, high-pay and low-skill, low-pay jobs.

Work is key to health outcomes. The Institute for the Future of Work’s Good Work Monitor has revealed that good work correlates with a wide range of health measures including life expectancy, life satisfaction, mental health, disease and deaths of despair. It also finds that regions of the UK where good work is most available have fared best through the pandemic, with less exposure to Covid-19, and reduced impacts on health, including Covid-19 mortality.

Place increasingly defines our experience of work. The UK is characterised by stubborn geographic inequalities, linked to the economic mix in local labour markets which define access to good quality work. The review demonstrates the need for an updated understanding to help ensure regional disparities in the impact of automation do not widen further.

Read more about these trends in the launch report of the Pissarides Review.

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