In the second of two autumn salons looking at human-robot relations, we welcome the authors of a new book looking at the narratives around immigration and automation.
Work has become synonymous with existential anxieties concerning status, identity, and self-worth. However, work has never been more precarious, and workers have never been more insecure. Fixed and zero-hours contracts, sub-standard working conditions low wages, and continuous corporate restructurings are permanent features of the current social and economic landscape. These features can either be justified as a means to overcome low productivity and stagnant economic growth or explained as manifestations of dysfunctional economies.
Arguments over low productivity, inefficient labour force and lack of appropriate skills in the UK labour market have generated strong responses: from enthusiasm about the implementation of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to wider scepticism about massive job losses and lack of a transition period for workers to acquire new skills for a new technology driven economy.
At the same time, post-Brexit, arguments have continued over immigration levels, with some businesses demanding pre-Brexit rates of immigration. These demands focus on the need for cheap and/or low-skilled labour in care, agriculture, haulage, and hospitality for a competitive and growing economy.
The competitiveness of the economy appears to be interdepended with either the constant flow of low-paid immigrant workers or with the replacement of workers with robots and AI. But is automation an irreversible force that would eventually render work obsolete? And is it ethical or even sustainable to employ immigrants for jobs national citizens are not willing to do? How should policy makers and employees respond to the arguments between automation or immigration?