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Workers should embrace robots, not fear them, says Labour deputy

Labour deputy leader to say workers need not fear robots taking their jobs, but welcome the opportunities they will bring

The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said the increased use of robots and automation shouldn’t mean people losing their jobs, but should allow humans to do more.

The Future of Work Commission, of which Watson is co-chair, has completed a report looking into how the UK is dealing with “the new technological revolution”.

It reports that software that automates tasks currently performed by people should be welcomed as a way to advance, rather than viewed as a threat to jobs.

Software robots today carry out tasks previously done by back-office workers, and increasingly those of front-office, customer-facing workers. The rate of technological change is spreading fear among some professions.

For example, the CEO of Deutsche Bank said a “big number of staff will eventually be replaced by robots” as it looks towards artificial intelligence technology.

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Meanwhile, according to recent research by PwC, up to 28% of young workers’ jobs in the UK will be at risk from automation over the next 15 years.

As organisations in more and more sectors adopt software to automate tasks that currently require manual intervention, many fear that society will struggle to cope with the rapid loss of traditional work.

But the Future of Work Commission concluded that “the most apocalyptic predictions about the impact automation will have on jobs are far too pessimistic”.

The report said automation and artificial intelligence would create as many jobs as they destroy – if the right policies are in place.

At the report launch, Watson is expected to say: “It can sometimes feel like we are preparing for a world in which artificial intelligence, algorithms and automation, rather than human endeavour and hard work, will shape every aspect of our society and our economy. That sounds like a frightening prospect. But it needn’t be.”

He will claim that “21st-century machines” can take on the heavy lifting and routine tasks of the future to allow humans to focus on activities that generate larger economic benefits.

“That is liberating. So I suppose what I’m really saying is: robots can set us free ... A former prime minister once famously said ‘hug a hoodie’. Today, I’m asking you to embrace an android,” he is expected to say.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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