POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Automation and the Workforce

Published Friday, August 12, 2016

Automation technologies can reduce costs and raise productivity. However, there is considerable uncertainty over their potential effects on the UK workforce. This note provides an overview of how these technologies are being used; and potential implications for employment, skills, education and inequality in the coming decades.

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Advances in robotics and computing are enabling the automation of a greater range of tasks than has been possible previously. Activities such as driving a car, writing an earnings report or translating a text from one language to another can now be carried out autonomously. Use of automation technologies can increase productivity, product reliability and worker safety, while reducing costs.

Technology has not historically led to long-term unemployment, although it has displaced workers from specific tasks and altered the type of employment available. Opinion is divided on whether this pattern will continue, and concerns have been raised by some economists, technology experts and others that automation may lead to job losses occurring at a faster rate than job creation.

This briefing outlines current applications of automation technologies and their potential implications for the UK workforce, including for jobs, skills, education and inequality.

POSTnotes POST-PN-0534

Authors: Lydia Harriss; Joseph Ennis

Topics: Companies, Industrial health and safety, Industry, Information technology, Regulation, Research and innovation, Science

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.