AI job fears: how can we regulate the ‘rise of the robots’?

Concern grows that ‘AI jobs bloodbath’ is underway as BT announces plan to shed 55,000 staff

An AI robot at the House of Lords
An AI robot at the House of Lords
(Image credit: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

The “AI jobs bloodbath” is said to be underway after BT announced it will lose up to 55,000 staff by the end of the decade, with many roles being replaced by artificial intelligence.

“Is this the start of the great AI jobs bloodbath?” asked the Daily Mail front page, adding that the job losses at the telecommunications giant have sparked further debate about “the march of the robots”.

Rishi Sunak has promised that the UK will seek new “guardrails” to protect against the potential dangers of AI. But what can actually be done to manage the rise of the robots?

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What did the papers say?

There are “growing concerns” that AI will lead to “massive job losses across the global economy”, said the Daily Mail. Some analysts predict that “as many as 300 million positions are at risk as the technology rapidly advances”.

BT’s chief executive Philip Jansen said the rise of AI would help create jobs to replace those lost. “We just don’t know what,” he added. The Evening Standard was not convinced, warning that robots will “take over”.

Some believe the future may not necessarily be quite so bleak. “The robots really are coming for some jobs,” agreed the BBC, but the technology is weak at “tasks that involve distinctly human qualities, like emotional intelligence and outside-the-box thinking”, so “moving into roles that centre those skills could help lessen the chances of being replaced”.

Some say that the technology won’t take jobs but change them – not necessarily for the better. Explaining how AI “will come for your job”, The Atlantic said that “instead of being replaced by robots” office workers “will soon be pressured to act more like robots themselves”.

The logic is “simple and circular”, the magazine explained: “increased efficiency frees us up to be more productive”. Therefore, “it’s not quite an apocalypse, it’s far more boring than that”.

Nevertheless, the threat of AI to the jobs market was seen again when Metro reported that US tech giant IBM expects to pause hiring for roles as roughly 7,800 jobs could be replaced by AI in the coming years.

What next?

The UK government is calling for international co-operation on AI. The prime minister is set to use this week’s G7 summit in Japan to “push other allies to take a co-ordinated approach to AI rules”, said the i news site.

Last month, the government published an upbeat AI strategy that encouraged companies to pioneer technological breakthroughs and use them to create new economic opportunities. But “in a marked shift of tone”, Sunak is “now concentrating more on the threats posed by artificial intelligence”, said the news site.

Rose Luckin, a professor at the University College London Knowledge Lab, told The Washington Post that the UK is investing in training to try “to make sure everybody at university gets a taste of AI”. But she warned that it is also necessary to equip the wider population to adapt to the new reality.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Italy has earmarked €30 million to improve the skills of unemployed people as well as those workers whose jobs could be most at risk from “the advance of automation and artificial intelligence”.

Meanwhile, the European Union is “racing to draw up rules to regulate it in an ambitious bill called the AI Act”, said Euro News. AI systems used in “high-risk categories” like employment, which would “affect the course of a person’s life”, will “face tough requirements such as being more transparent and using accurate data”, said the news site. However, there are fears that US-based organisations would be unwilling to comply, despite the threat of fines.

Another option being discussed is a pause in development, so threats can be mitigated. In March, more than 1,000 AI experts, researchers and backers called for a moratorium. In a letter, the experts, including Elon Musk, who co-founded OpenAI, the research lab responsible for ChatGPT and GPT-4, called for an immediate pause on the creation of “giant” AIs for at least six months, so the dangers of systems could be understood and alleviated.

Calls for a greater understanding of the consequences of AI continue to grow. “The best thing Congress could do is to fund efforts to better understand the potential harms from AI,” said Slate.

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.