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This material comes from CBC Radio’s Ideas program and the documentaries were produced by CBC Radio. Click here to access the original article produced by Jill Eisen and Greg Kelly, first broadcast September 2017.
AI and robots seem to be everywhere, handling more and more work, freeing humans up — to do what? Contributor Jill Eisen takes a wide-angle lens to the digital revolution happening in our working lives. She starts in the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution saw the triumph of machine power over muscle power. Now artificial intelligence is on the verge of replacing our own intelligence. It took decades to adjust to machines out-performing human and animal labour. What will happen when robots and algorithms surpass what our brains can do? Some say digital sweatshops—repetitive, dull, poorly paid and insecure jobs—are our destiny. Others believe that technology could lead to more fulfilling lives. **This episode is Part 1 of series. Part 2 airs Tuesday, February 6; Part 3 airs Tuesday, February 13. **This episode originally aired September 13, 2017.
“The unions haven’t come to grips with this. They’re floundering. They’re getting hammered. The Left used to think about whether unions could be revolutionary or not. Now the question is: can they can just defend people? And they can’t.” –Sam Gindin
No one doubts that AI, along with machine learning, advanced robotics, 3-D printing and the internet of things will disrupt the labour market. It’s just a question of how much. One influential study coming out of Oxford University estimated that 47% of jobs in the U.S. could be eliminated using existing technologies. Everything from fast-food and retail jobs to legal and medical jobs are in the crosshairs.
The big question is whether new, well-paying jobs will come along to replace the old ones. If recent trends are any indication, it doesn’t look good. Since the mid-1990’s contract, part-time and temporary work have accounted for 60% of all new jobs across most developed countries, and in 2016 an astonishing 90% of new jobs in Canada were part-time.
If the benefits of the new technologies are to be broadly shared, there will have to be big changes ahead. Labour laws and employment standards will have to be rewritten, our social safety net will need strengthening, governments will have to take a more active role in directing the economy and unions will have to find new ways of representing workers.
Guests in the series: