The View from IFOW
Welcome to our latest Future of Work round-up, where we reflect on what we’ve been doing, thinking about and planning.
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We’ve all had to live with huge uncertainty these past few months and with news of three vaccines against Covid-19, it felt we could finally be hopeful for 2021. But our seasonal cheer is dampened because we expect a challenging time ahead. We’re at a critical point in navigating the course of future work and fortunes across the country.
This year, the world of work has changed at great speed from the ‘double disruption’ of the pandemic and technological revolution. And as we emerge from the pandemic, we are set for a third disruption in leaving the European Union. But there are opportunities in these disruptions too – as MPs discussed in the inaugural APPG debate on future of work.
What we've been doing
The ‘triple disruption’ facing the UK – and what policymakers can do about it – has been the focus of a webinar we co-hosted with the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work. The speakers were Professor David Autor (Head of the MIT Economics and MIT’s Work of the Future Task Force) Saadia Zahidi (Managing Director of the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society) and Sir Chris Pissarides (our Chair).
David Autor spoke about four new trends shaping work in our post Covid-19 world: they are telepresence, de-intensification of cities, firm concentration, and automation. (You can read more about them in a guest blog coming soon to the website.) Each hits low paid workers living in urban areas hardest.
Saadia Zahidi presented evidence of accelerated remote work, automation, and digitisation which (she says) will lead to machines doing the majority of current tasks within 5 years. She said sustained support was required from government to manage worker transitions to the jobs of the future.
Christopher Pissarides shared his latest thinking on the rise of unemployment and the importance of taking measures to ensure it does not become persistent. He said the quality of contract jobs (gig work) needs to be improved as explained by the report of the UK’s Future of Work Commission.
The new APPG on the future of work kicked off with a great debate in Westminster Hall supported by IFOW. The debate was sponsored by Kirsten Oswald MP and boosted our call for a Work 5.0 Strategy co-produced with civil society: “The world of work, and with it the education and skills sector, changed significantly long before Covid, but this crisis means that we must take stock and re-examine what the future of work should look like.”
Seema Malhotra MP argued the UK must begin to lead rather than lag in addressing concerns around worker protections, and Danny Kruger MP cited the work of our Future of Work Commissioner, Daniel Susskind: “I recognise the truth of the claim that in past times technology has not destroyed jobs but created them. However, I am not confident this time it will be the same.”
The need to tackle embedded structural inequalities was raised by MPs. It was an issue we explored in greater detail with our friends at the Ada Lovelace Institute. Our joint workshop considered how we might better inspect Algorithms for the impacts on equality, building on our Mind the Gap report and our Equalities Task Force enquiry.
In a second webinar, Anna joined Ada Lovelace Institute director Carly Kind and international experts from Canada, New Zealand and New York to discuss global trajectories, proposal and risks in regulating algorithm accountability. You can watch here.
Meanwhile, at home in the UK, there has been significant progress with the publication of the final Bias Review report from the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), for which Anna was an independent advisor. In a blog reflecting on the report, Anna identifies some milestones – including the shift of focus to pre-emptive action which should include algorithmic and equality impact assessments. But she argues that the terms of reference which focused on bias - a contested term - may have limited the ambition of the CDEI at this stage. We say: roll on phase 2 of the debate.
Microsoft may have apologised for the ‘productivity score’ function in Microsoft 365 but the uproar has drawn attention to the need for an update to the ICO Code on Employment Practice - and the support needed by employees to access and enforce data rights.
We think data is the new frontier of worker rights, so we’re delighted to have partnered with Prospect who have developed this practical guidance for unions on Data Protection Impact Assessments. A big shout out to Andrew Pakes for leading this project, and to Trust for London for supporting us.
What to look out for
We’re looking forward to sharing our Good Work Monitor in the New Year. Building on a wealth of contributions to measuring ‘good work’, we’ve developed an interactive tool to explore the connections and relationships between economic vibrancy, the availability of good work, and the health and wellbeing of people across the country. Among other highlights, we’ve used a machine learning clustering algorithm to group together local authorities facing similar challenges, where similar policy interventions are likely to help.
Also in the year ahead, we are partnering with the first winner of our Future of Work Challenge, Enrol Yourself by sponsoring two bursaries for the residents of Grimsby to participate in ‘Learning Marathons’ Find out more and donate here. The 6 month learning accelerator programmes will be available from January next year.
Future of Work Geeks' Update
For a full briefing on the best future of work-related reports, articles, videos and podcasts from the last month, subscribe to our Future of Work Geeks' update. Soon these resources will form part of our upcoming Future of Work Library. Each month, we'll include a few key pieces in this newsletter.
What we’ve been reading
This month we’ve been following coverage of Google’s treatment of the leading AI researcher Timnit Gebru, who wrote a groundbreaking paper that showed facial recognition to be less accurate at identifying women and people of colour. Her treatment has only gone to show the importance of the causes she has fought for and the worrying consequences if whistleblowing is ignored. Timnit Gebru’s most recent work highlights the risks of large language models, something we’ve explored in the context of hiring for work. As our Trustee Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon says: ‘Equality should be a core principle of the way we design and use technology, not an afterthought’.
We’ve enjoyed digging into the excellent TUC survey on use of AI to carry out people-management functions, which highlights a range of different uses and people’s direct experience of these functions. A complementary analysis from King’s College London on how we’ve coped with a second lockdown suggests that women are worn out, men bored, and trust in advice from ‘authorities’ is dwindling.
We explored the latest from Professor Gina Neff on “Data work: the hidden talent and secret logic fuelling artificial intelligence" and lost ourselves in Nesta’s report Mapping Career Causeways: Supporting Workers at Risk. Nesta has used new analysis techniques to map how workers at risk from automation can navigate changes in the labour market, finding secure roles that match their individual skills and career ambitions. We look forward to seeing some practical applications of this project in 2021.
In an early Christmas present for the data-lovers among us, the Department of Health have released an interactive visualisation tool for the new Health Index for England. The tool allows for exploration of a range of health and social progress indicators for different local areas across England. As the ONS explain in this blog, the Index is being developed to help policymakers better track health outcomes across the country, and ensure that the health and wellbeing of the population "is recognised and treated as one of our nation's primary assets". Or as we would say: the primary goal for the economy.
And finally, a new documentary has been launched just in time for Christmas. iHuman by the Norwegian film-maker Tonje Hessen Schei, looks at the future for humanity in the light of the rise of robots and AI. The Guardian describes the film as “doom-laden” and “eye-opening… if your anxiety levels are up to it”.
We might just stick to the mince pies and egg-nog. We wish you a happy and peaceful holiday. Happy Christmas. See you next year.