This week, we’ve seen continued proposals to close virtually every railway ticket office in the country. This would affect almost 1000 offices and lead to a loss of around 2000 jobs.  It’s being done to fully automate ticket sales online and via machine; to save costs.  The move is  another example of the advance of AI replacing jobs and the erosion of face to face interaction in our daily lives. It will negatively impact those least able to deal with inaccessible systems and tech’ such as people living with sight loss and the elderly.

One report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2030 around 800 million jobs worldwide will have been replaced by AI. Goldman Sachs suggest this figure may be closer to 400 million.  Whichever is correct, we’re talking about a significant, if not seismic shift in the profile of the global workplace.

Inevitably there will be those (including Goldman Sachs) who point out that new employment opportunities will arise ‘phoenix like’ from the AI ashes. They will note how many jobs were actually around 60 years ago. Such sentiments are based on the idea that AI does not replace people. Rather it frees them up to focus on their human skills - the ones that cannot be replaced by AI.  But we might go on to ask ‘what cannot be replaced by AI?’ The rate of development appears to be both rapid and without limits. So, just how quickly will this narrative be overtaken by next generation AI. Surely, this is only a question of time.    

But there are other real concerns here as we wonder who might benefit from such significant change.  It seems unlikely that the largely unskilled workforce (those most likely to be displaced by AI) will be among the prime recipients of the new order - even in the shorter term.

What seems ever more likely is that AI will understandably be used by the wealthy and larger corporations to drive ever greater efficiencies. These efficiencies will quickly become synonymous with removing the resource-hungry, human element from the work equation.  Gone perhaps will be the idea that wealth creators generate wealth for all through some trickle-down economic effect.  Instead we might see social interactions sacrificed in favour of increased AI driven efficiencies. 

This would indeed result in a Grave New World; a place where wealth is concentrated into the hands of a very few whilst much of the world population disappears behind a screen of poverty and social isolation. Something to think about when you’re queuing to buy a train ticket from the faulty machine at your local station….. 

PARN will be running a consortium research project this year on AI and its impact on the professional body sector.  If your organisation would like to know more about how it can get involved please come along to our virtual roundtable on the 21 September. Book your place here.


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