Ep.80 – Robots, AI, and Automation with Darrell West

The robots are coming, the robots are coming!!

Okay, so maybe we’re not yet living in a world that looks like the movie Terminator, but it’s safe to say that changes are coming to the workforce as we know it. Robots, artificial intelligence, and driverless cars are no longer things of the distant future. They are with us today and will become increasingly common in coming years, along with virtual reality and digital personal assistants.

That’s what we’re talking about today with Darrell West, a decades-long connection of mine who is vice president and director of Governance Studies and the founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. In his latest book, The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation, West explores the current state of the workplace, how technological innovation will disrupt it and why government policy needs to change to help workers adapt to it.

If companies need fewer workers due to automation and robotics, what happens to those who once held those jobs and don’t have the skills for new jobs? And since many benefits are delivered through employers, how are people outside the workforce for a lengthy period of time going to earn a living and get health care and social benefits?

Throughout the pages of this book, West argues that society needs to rethink the concept of jobs, reconfigure the social contract, move toward a system of lifetime learning, and develop a new kind of politics that can deal with economic dislocations.

West presents a number of proposals to help people deal with the transition from an industrial to a digital economy:

  • Broaden the concept of employment to include volunteering and parenting and pay greater attention to the opportunities for leisure time
  • Workers will need help throughout their lifetimes to acquire new skills and develop new job capabilities
  • Political reforms will be necessary to reduce polarization and restore civility so there can be open and healthy debate about where responsibility lies for economic well-being

It’s a fascinating read about what faces us in the days ahead…a discussion that should take place sooner rather than later.

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