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AI, IT and Universal Basic Income

Automation in IT and the future of work

Fancy a free salary? No strings attached. Technology heavyweights, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson all back Universal Basic Income (UBI). Graham Smith, head of marketing at Microsoft recruitment partner Curo Talent, explains why these policies aren’t simply the brain fodder of billionaires, but could become a reality due to advances in artificial intelligence (AI). 

UBI describes a cash handout, distributed to everyone, irrespective of a citizen’s employment status. The concept has long been supported by socialists, but the inequality of jobs caused by automation could make policies like this a necessity. 

Reports by PwC estimate that robots could represent up to 30 per cent of British jobs by 2030, while the Bank of England estimates 15 million jobs could be at risk. However, this threat isn’t a new phenomenon. Today’s challenge is that automation is no longer exclusively mechanical muscle in the form of robotics and machinery, but AI too. 

IT workers are often at the centre of the AI debate, as many basic computing roles are at high risk of automation. However, advanced IT talent is likely to be in even greater demand when these technologies are implemented. Put simply, if our machines get smarter, our IT engineers must too.

Consider this as an example. Implementing AI into cybersecurity software allows algorithms to dive deeper than previously thought. This speed and efficiency allow businesses to better protect their networks, processing data faster than feasibly possible by human labour. 

While this may appear to make IT workers redundant, this actually creates a growing need for humans to qualify for cognitively advanced tasks, such as analysing these results and implementing and maintaining this technology.

Intelligent machines already augment plenty of examples of human labour, such as the automated back-up of IT files. As technology advances, the second phase of the machine economy will see human contributions decreasing, and simply close the remaining gaps such as roles requiring supervision, decision-making and maintenance. 

We’re still a distance away from leaving humans entirely out of the equation. Until then, the IT industry must equip workers with training to deal with these technologies, leaving menial tasks for existing automation. Alongside this, businesses implementing IT projects must ensure they recruit specialist IT contractors that can genuinely understand and maintain these technologies. 

Inevitably, human intervention will be removed from the equation at some point. A common suggestion for alleviating this challenge is taxation — implementing a tax on business owners when an employee is replaced by a robot, or in this case, automated software using AI or machine learning. However, that’s another argument for the Government to address. 

Back to UBI, several trials have already taken place around the world. This includes pilot schemes in the US, Canada, Finland and India. Each trial has used different methods and delivered varying levels of success. In Britain, the idea has been minorly, but we are not quite at the stage where UBI is a necessity. That said, more in-depth discussions should begin soon.

Advances in AI are edging us further to the stage in which human labour will be turned upside down. Until the Government acts, the responsibility to manage this change lies with the IT industry. Workers must ensure they can withstand the looming AI transformation, or risk replacement when this technology arrives. 


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