Good Gigs: A fairer future for the UK’s gig economy

The growing gig economy is often associated with low wages and exploitation, with the flexibility it offers advantaging the employer rather than the worker (and as one of the speakers at the recent RSA event said, flexibility is fine, so long as it works in both directions). Some of that is to do with ambiguities in legal status which haven’t kept pace with the changing labour market, but some of it is about power imbalances – another reflection of the changing relationship between technology and work. This report attempts to answer the question of what a good gig economy would look like, with government given the primary role for creating the conditions for success.

Brhmie Balaram, Josie Warden, Fabian Wallace-Stephens – RSA

What should we do about job automation?

A thirty minute discussion on job automation. Building on Michael Osborne’s work on the levels of job automation, Ryan Avent paints a dystopian future where, paradoxically, humans are forced into low skill and low wage work – and Judy Wajcman points out that the impact of technology is not inexorably deterministic, but is a function of social and political choices. As in previous industrial revolutions, there may be many losers in the transition, even if in the long run, society as a whole is better off, bringing a clear need to avoid technology driving social and political division. The goal seems obvious – that automation should lessen the burdens of work as far as possible – but the means of getting there requires many assumptions to be challenged and reset.

Matthew Taylor, Michael Osborne, Ryan Avent, Judy Wajcman – RSA Radio

The jobs of the future – and two skills you need to get them

If, as the World Economic Forum has argued, five million jobs are about to be automated out of existence, it becomes important to know which skills will be less in demand and which align with future jobs growth. This article argues that there are two important dimensions – the ‘soft’ skills, such as sharing and negotiation, and mathematical ability, and that it is the combination of the two which will lead to greatest success.

Simon Torkington – World Economic Forum

Good Work for All

A short, sharp lecture – the main part is less than twenty minutes – on the nature of work, and particularly what should count as ‘good work’ in a modern economy, covering similar ground to the article Matthew Taylor published the same day. It is followed by responses from Carolyn Fairbairn, Carol Black and Peter Cheese, which are a slightly more mixed bag, but interesting for what they both do and do not say directly.

Matthew Taylor – RSA

Robotics or fascination with anthropomorphism

A clear expression of the counter-argument to Brad De Long’s peak horse analogy – the current round of technology-driven innovation, like every round before it will generate new jobs to meet the new demand for the new products and services which the new technology enables and which were previously unimaginable. If human needs are unlimited and unforseeable, there is no reason to think that the model as a whole is under threat (though that, of course, says nothing about the individuals caught in the transition, or about the distribution of gains and losses more generally).

Branko Milanovic – Global Inequality

Technological Progress Anxiety: Thinking About “Peak Horse” and the Possibility of “Peak Human”

The question of whether new technology is a threat or an opportunity never goes away, because it can never definitively be answered. Despite contemporary fears, past new technologies have resulted in more – albeit often different – jobs, rather than fewer, so why should this time be different? One answer might be that past changes have left ‘cybernetic control’ of work firmly in the human sphere, and that current and prospective challenges are shrinking that area of advantage. The era of peak horse labour passed a century ago – for a long time they were irreplaceable, despite changes in some of the surrounding technology, until suddenly they weren’t. Are we approaching a similar position for peak human labour?

Brad de Long – Washington Center for Equitable Growth

Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Economy

From the last weeks of the Obama White House, this is an exemplary analysis of increasing automation on the economy in general and on employment in particular, with a range of policy recommendations to address the challenges it identifies. It makes the important point that since variations in technology across the major economies cannot explain the differing impacts on employment, differences in policy and institutions must be having an effect. One example of that is very different national policies on the level of support offered to help people move from old jobs prone to automation to new jobs which are better protected from it.  The report is well worth reading, but is also helpfully summarised in a commentary in the current MIT Technology Review.

Executive Office of the President


A History and Future of the Rise of the Robots

The automation of work is not a new phenomenon, it has been ineluctably growing for centuries. It’s why watches have second hands and our time is not our own. This essay on the history and future of work from the perspective of an organisational sociologist brings out very clearly both that that future is about social and economic relationships at least as much as it is about technological change and that as the range of activities for which humans are an essential part of production continues to shrink, we are going to have to find different ways of spending and valuing time.

R David Dixon Jr – Hackernoon

Why Don’t More UIs Use Accelerometers?

Easing the friction which gets in the way of people interacting with machines will be an important strand of the trend to automation. The keyboard was optimised for the technology of the nineteenth century and still has its uses, but in many circumstances it’s not a sensible way of interacting. Voice is one obvious option, but it’s not the only one. This short post argues that just tilting a phone and adopting techniques from game design might be another. And it’s still a little bit disappointing that Dasher never made it to the mainstream.

Mark Wilson – Co.Design

Digital Transformation is Failing. Why?

Work – particularly office based work – is an inefficient mess, depending on tools, such as email and meetings which are inefficient and out of date. The thing that’s getting in the way of that changing is less to do with technology than is often thought (though the adoption of better technology is certainly necessary, even if it isn’t sufficient), and more to do with leadership. A characteristically short, sharp blog post from a writer who is always worth reading.

Paul Taylor

Should economists be more concerned about artificial intelligence?

There is both growing concern among economists about the potential speed and extent of the disruption caused by automation and also a temptation to draw conclusions from previous industrial revolutions, when apparently similar concerns about apparently similar risks proved unfounded. The not very illuminating conclusion is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the risks too lightly.

Mauricio Armellini and Tim Pike – Bank of England

The Automation Argument for a basic income. Does it add up?

A dissection of the ‘automation argument’ for a basic income – interesting not so much for arguing that automation won’t lead to a life of well-rewarded idleness as for suggesting that a basic income is an inadequate, and ultimately very conservative, approach to the problems automation might bring. Also notable for including a reference to the shoe event horizon.

Katharina Nieswandt – World Economic Forum