Automation all around the world has been a double-edged sword. It can be used for tremendous good in terms of finances - lowering the cost of production and thus raising profits for companies, like in the case of Tesla - a company famously trying to automate every step of their production process. Companies are not the only benefactor, however - the more high-earning companies in a country, the more wealth and economic growth is brought to the country or area, and a higher percentage of the population can be used (in theory) for quaternary research - developing new ideas.

So, why in theory? Well when looking anywhere as far away as Detroit, to as close to home as London, we can see that automation can wreak havoc on anyone employed in primary and secondary - resource collecting and production - industries. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, more than half of all coal jobs will be lost to automation. ( During the 1980s, Detroit was a booming financial centre, but now it is an urban jungle filled with empty warehouses and manufacturing plants. Many were employed in manufacturing, but when people were laid off there were not a lot of attempts from companies to provide reeducation schemes - those that did provide were almost never effective. Detroit is a harrowing example of automation unchecked, and unfortunately here in London, we may be facing a similar ordeal.

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As seen throughout 2018, train drivers and station workers were particularly unhappy automation. Many train strikes happened all over the country, and more than once ground whole cities to a halt. Northern Railway became infamous, and had trains not running for an excess of three days. Tube strikes in London are a regular occurrence, normally due to automation of some kind, whether it be of the train drivers themselves, or station employees.

So, if primary and secondary industry sectors are already being largely automated, where does the problem lie for the UK - after all, the UK only has just under 20% of people employed in primary and secondary industry combined. The problem lies in AI. AI, or Artificial Intelligence, has the capacity to make decisions and carry out complex tasks at the same level, or in many cases better than a human can The computer can think, and make decisions - which makes it perfect for use in tertiary industry - the service sector. The economic sector that makes up 91% of London jobs.

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Not only can AI carry out tasks, they can in many cases, do it better than a human can. Google’s DeepMind AI has already beaten Chess grandmasters, and world-renowned Go players. Go is a game which, according to Google, has a search space so vast, it is “a number greater than the atoms in the known universe”. Go moves cannot be decided by a one size fits all algorithm. This flexibility and ability to make decisions makes AI perfect for automation of the service sector. This could be great in terms of greatly reducing running costs in the UK for companies. Google has demoed ‘Google Duplex’  - a service where an AI orders your takeaway, or books your haircut, all while sounding realistically like a human - it makes use of slang terms, and ‘umms’ and ‘aahs’, and even interjects with sounds of agreement, etc. This kind of technology, if further explored, could end up replacing many retail jobs - a customer could walk into a retail store, and tell an automated assistant the kind of product that it is looking for. The assistant would then make a decision based on the information that it has, and would point the customer in the right direction. The customer could then simply walk out of the store, like has been demoed by Amazon with their Amazon Go project. Ultimately, technology companies and businesses alike are working towards worker-less stores.

While this concept sounds great for both consumers and businesses, we must be very careful advancing. As the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan put it "We’ve never had in history the scale and pace that we had now, and politicians and policymakers have not recognized that."

Another problem faced is in education - the fact that many students are putting themselves in a lot of debt by attending university and specialising would be wasted, and not to mention have huge financial ramifications. Not to mention that the only change to curriculums in secondary schools has been to add more subjects and tougher grading to GCSEs, and not make any meaningful change in preparing students for a future where they will inevitably share offices with AI. Dr Tania Mathias said, “Science fiction is slowly becoming science fact, and robotics and AI look destined to play an increasing role in our lives over the coming decades.” She is not wrong. A report by a London University found that the majority of students are not fully aware of the scale of the impact that AI could have on their jobs, and only 13% thought that AI would have a positive impact on the working world.