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September 1, 2023

IFOW newsletter September 2023 | The view from IFOW

I hope that you have had a restful August and are looking forward to the coming ‘new term’ as much as we are. While summer is often a time of harvest, for IFOW it’s been a busy time planting seeds. We have been confirmed as partners with Partnership on AI, preparing for publication research from the Pissarides Review into the Future of Work and Wellbeing - funded by the Nuffield Foundation - and have been working hard on a series of events coming to fruition over the next few weeks.

The first sees us at CogX Festival on September 14th, both presenting on their main stage, and hosting an executive suite for businesses interested in working with us on practical ways to design, develop and deploy AI responsibly, promoting innovation but also protecting good work.

With the Global AI Safety Summit now announced for early November, we are keen to ensure that workplace considerations inform the agenda. Critical to the UK economy is the creative arts, and - supported by Somerset House Trust - we are partnering with the Alan Turing Institute and Queen Mary University to convene a roundtable to listen to leading figures from the sector to better understand concerns and priorities.

Then, on 20th September, we have the launch of a significant new piece of research by Professor James Hayton on the factors impacting the adoption of AI, based on a survey of over 1000 UK firms. This study - part of the Pissarides Review - has major policy implications for how we get AI right, and we do hope that you will join us for this important launch:

Wishing you the best for what promises to be a busy and exciting month ahead.

Anna and the IFOW team

Deep Dive: What are the real and diverse impacts of automation on work and workers?

Last week we published a piece by Daron Acemoglu - one of the world’s most cited economists, and headline speaker at our Pissarides Review conference back in January. In it, he outlines why much automation at present is only ‘so-so’ - disrupting wages and labour markets, but for only small productivity gains - and how we can do better.

With the government’s Global AI Safety Summit, his argument sets the scene really well for three literature reviews we have just launched as part of the Pissarides Review, supported by the Nuffield Foundation, looking at what we know - and need to know - about the impacts of automation and AI.

The first explores what the literature tells us about automation exposure at work and workers' wellbeing:

With automation profoundly reshaping work, Dr Bertha Rohenkohl and Dr Jonathan Clarke outline what the impacts - positive and negative - could be on workers.

The second is an urgent and detailed look at what insights Sen's Capability Approach could offer into the UK's labour market challenges of low productivity, unfilled job posts and low workforce engagement:

Dr Magdalena Soffia and Professor Jolene Skordis offer a human-centred perspective on labour market challenges and promoting better outcomes at work and beyond.

The third, laying the foundation for Professor James Hayton’s forthcoming study on the adoption of AI by UK firms, reviews the evidence on technology adoption and the dimensions of human choice, social and organisational context that impact it.

Stay tuned for the full survey results which examine this in practice, due for launch later this month.

Interesting reads / watches / listensAI can help shape society for the better - but humans and machines must work together

D Fox Harrell on why the future is collaboration, not command and control. "AI does offer extraordinary creative opportunities, but creators need to do social-cultural work that is at least as hard as technically engineering these systems – and perhaps harder.”

'Visible Hands' - how gig companies shape workers' exposure to market risk

How do gig platforms prevent workers from defecting to a competitor? Drawing on 40 original interviews and survey data from 210 ride-hail drivers, this new study outlines how companies calibrate workers' exposure to market risk using gamified reward systems. These rewards protect compliant workers from changes in market conditions, raising the costs of accepting work from a competitor. Yet those who do not comply are “pushed” to the periphery, increasing their market risk.

AI Policy as Industrial Policy

Framing AI policy as part of an industrial strategy, it’s critical to recognise the way that even economists have come round to the idea of market shaping. This new piece by Juhazs and colleagues reviews the way the discipline is adopting this idea, which have long been mainstream in more heterodox worldviews.

'Pass AI law soon or risk falling behind'

MPs have warned that the prime minister's plan for the UK to take the lead in AI regulation is at risk unless a new law is introduced in November, the BBC reports. The EU could overtake the UK in efforts to make AI safe unless action is taken, ministers on the Commons Technology Committee said. The full report of the Committee is here. From page 34:

The Government has said in the AI white paper that it may legislate, at a minimum, to establish ‘due regard’ duties for existing regulators. That commitment alone—in addition to any further requirements that may emerge—suggests that there should be a tightly-focussed AI Bill in the new session of Parliament.

To protect UK creative industries (see news of our event on this above) MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee are now calling for any AI law to include abandoning the current artificial intelligence copyright exemption. Details here.

The 'half-life of skills' - and the need for regular reskilling

A new report in the Harvard Business Review reveals that "the average half-life of skills is now less than five years, and in some tech fields it’s as low as two and a half years." Workers in the knowledge economy won't necessarily lose their jobs over that time, but "many of them may well discover that AI and other new technologies have so significantly altered the nature of what they do that in effect they’re working in completely new fields." This again speaks to the need for a Capability Approach - see the literature review above, and our explainer, 'Reframing Skills'.

Our last APPG event was informed by this work, focusing on the UK skills picture and what needs to be done to overhaul it. Watch the session back here.

Events / Opportunities

CogX Festival - How Do We Get The Next 10 Years Right? (Sept 12th-14th)

We are pleased to partner again with CogX, whose cross-disciplinary festival of ideas this September looks at the challenges that we need to get right over the next decade. We helped develop their Future of Work stream and look forward to the wide-ranging programme that they have on offer this year. Our Director, Anna Thomas, will be speaking at 11am on 14th Sept, and we will be hosting a suite in the main arena that morning, so if you are at the festival please do come and join us for breakfast 8 - 9am.

What Drives UK firms to adopt AI? Report launch (20th September, Somerset House)

As part of the Pissarides Review, sponsored by the Nuffield Foundation, Professor James Hayton conducted a major study of 1000 UK firms, exploring what influences the adoption of AI, and what the impacts are on jobs.

We are delighted to be launching this report, which has major policy implications for the UK and for companies looking to sustain job quality as they invest in automation technologies. Book your place here.

AI and the UK Creative Arts Sector (19th September, Somerset House)

In collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute and Queen Mary University, and with the support of the Somerset House Trust, we are holding a roundtable/workshop to listen to key voices from the UK Creative Arts sector on how governance should be shaped.

TUC - Negotiating for a Just Transition (Course begins 2nd October)

This TUC course aims to equip union reps and officers to respond strategically to the challenge of giving workers a voice on the transition to a net-zero economy. The course will also develop understanding of the wider impact of the green transition on issues such as workplace skills, jobs, equality and health and safety.

Resolution Foundation WorkerTech Conference (21st November)

The Resolution Foundation are "bringing together over 100 founders, innovators, researchers, funders and investors to share learning and identify new paths to acheiving better work in the UK". The aim of the day is to explore the emerging dynamic between social impact investors and start-ups, and examine how mission-driven organisations - in collaboration with foundations, researchers, unions, and businesses - can use data and technology to benefit low-paid workers and those in precarious work.

Thank you for your time and interest. If you enjoyed this newsletter and know someone else who would benefit from it, please do share it with them. If someone has forwarded this to you and you would like to receive future newsletters yourself, please subscribe here. For regular updates about our work, you can also follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.


Anna Thomas


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