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GUEST POST: Opinions on the Future of Work

 

Robin Duncan

Article contributed by Robin Duncan, Project Manager, AES

Given that automation in the field of direct employment is a topic which will impact everyone, regardless of whether we’re currently employed (and therefore subject to having our entire job, or a proportion thereof replaced by automated means) or not, we are all going to be affected in some way by automation. Therefore the turnout at Tuesday night’s debate, spanning those currently employed in a range of sectors (banking, economics, software development, energy, arts, culture and media), along with currently unemployed and/or retired audience members, was a great indication of the level of engagement with a critical subject.

Following a kick-off from Elaine Smyth, Head of Programmes at Connect, during which the scene was set for the macro opportunities and impacts of automation in Northern Ireland, the three key speakers took the stage, offering varied perspectives on automation from their unique angles:

 

Lucy McKenna – creator and owner, Full Aeon

Lucy touched upon the ability of automation to enhance our lives, both as individuals, and within teams, by providing greater opportunities for creativeness and expression, facilitated by automation of certain aspects of traditional employment roles/activities. Of greatest personal interest to me was the discussion around how education may require to adapt to a world of greater automation, challenging the traditional model of primary, secondary, and tertiary education, resulting in relatively limited vocations.

 

Dr. Niall Cullinane – Senior Lecturer, Queen’s Management School

The author of a book entitled ‘A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Relatively Cheap Book about Employment Regulations’ is always going to be worth listening to, in my opinion. Addressing the extent to which automation has been on the horizon for decades, with a very similar narrative to today, Niall effectively debunked the fear factor that accompanies automation as heralding some form of dystopian future, in which humans are obsolete. Very welcome in retaining some perspective on the positive merits of a world with greater automation.

 

Paul Moorhead – creator and CTO, Kraydel

Paul stimulated discussion around the emotive aspects in his discussion around the opportunities created by automation to address society’s failing to match the needs of the vulnerable via adequate dedication of human resources. The solution: utilise automation in order to enhance efficiency in care provision, thereby changing the care-giving model to something of far greater benefit to the recipient. Viewing the practical application of automation in this manner arguably generated the greatest debate of the evening, with a number of sceptical views expressed, ably addressed by Paul in discussing the benefits of the Kraydel system.

As always, debates around this topic always inevitably lead to moral implications of a replacement of human functions with robots, therefore raising the question of what’s left for the human? We scratched the surface of this topic, however what’s evident is that the benefits of automation are latent, and are already being employed in a private-sector context for the benefit of society. A fascinating and very pertinent point, raising elements of a previous 4IRC debate ‘Is there an algorithm for good government?’, is the extent to which regulation should play a part in guiding the path of automation, given that the pace of development in technological solutions are outpacing the ability of governance to keep up. Further to this point, how does the future look in a situation where the so-called ‘master algorithm’ becomes reality, and anybody ceases to have control over the pace of change? 

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