Technology: What is the future of work? Digitisation, automation and disruption


February, 2017

The technological advancement of recent decades has brought unprecedented improvements in living standards of people all around the globe. As the first generation to have grown up in a digital environment, we have had the privilege of being able to harness seemingly limitless amounts of information anytime, anywhere. The web revolution has shrunk our world and opened up an unbounded wealth of possibilities, and we have invited the brightest minds working at the forefront of the technology sector to share their thoughts on what kind of future the digitization, disruption and automation of our working and private lives will take us, and what challenges we will face along the way.

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The digital world offers the benefits described above because it is able to transcend time and space. This raises many intriguing questions on how to enforce law and order in such an abstract world. One of the most important questions is that of how we protect the privacy and integrity of individuals on the internet. Depending on how we use it, our online identity forms a dangerous juxtaposition: on the one hand, the web can offer a cloak of anonymity, on the other, we often unwittingly lay bare our most private information whilst browsing the web.

How do we create legal structures that allow for protection of our sensitive information and right to privacy whilst trying to prevent groups and individuals pursuing malign intentions under the cover of anonymity such as terrorist organisations? What policy prescriptions are required to keep the web giants such as Google and Facebook in check and assure they handle their data monopolies safely and responsibly? Digitization is not only transforming the type of policies we make but also how politics itself is made. The US presidential election was one that was one that was fought out on the social networks. The digital media played a role of unprecedented importance in influencing the result of this spectacular election. Ironically, in a world of an infinite abundance of easily accessible information, a populistic, ‘post-factual’ style of argumentation was the dominant one.

This raises the question of whether the internet is fulfilling its potential as a platform for constructive discourse and sharing of facts or whether it is merely acting as a megaphone for power hungry demagogues to spread their views. The emergence of automated vehicles is just the start of the era of the ‘internet of things’, a world in which our physical environment becomes increasingly digital by means of interconnectedness of everything around us at home and at the workplace. By digitizing our supply chains from the source to the consumer we can produce more efficiently and sustainably. Many low skill jobs are likely to be made redundant through automated processes whilst simultaneously many new jobs will be created that don’t exist yet. What are the necessary economic policies to adjust our infrastructures to accommodate for this economic transition? The availability of affordable online access and telecommunication in developing economies is likely to quicken the pace of the enhancement of productivity and competitiveness. Can the spread of digitization and automation alleviate the inequality in developed and developing economies or will the gap widen further – what can we do to aid this?

The boom of fin-tech is another important development in the question of implications of technological advancement. Will digital currencies such as bitcoin become the standard transaction method of the future? Do blockchain technologies really have the potential to make online transactions safe and transparent? How can alternative financing models make finance more inclusive and democratic? Can Social Trading platforms replace conventional investment funds as more transparent and efficient ways to invest?

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