Absolutely. It’s absurd. And dangerous. The biggest question we face is: what jobs do we want people to do, and what do we want code to do? And it’s not immediately obvious to anyone anywhere near public policy – or in my case, urban policy – why you’d choose to delete a load of the former jobs for the latter, just because you can. (Or conceivably can.) People want to work – it’s part of who we are – leaving aside the vast social problems not being able to work would create. There are certainly jobs that it would be beneficial for code to do, involving particularly dangerous or particularly dull activities, and let’s pursue those as potentially fit for automation. Autonomous shuttles (not cars, as they screw things up in different ways) may well be a worthwhile as they’d be safer, and an effective addition to our public transit options; but I’d still value an employee in the bus, even if they’re not in the driver’s seat: to interact with; as informal tour guide or navigator; to tell jokes to or moan about the weather with; to help out those who unpredictably need it; to react with human ingenuity and empathy when required; as confidante and friend and to provide the everyday informal contact with people that aren’t like you, the contact that our cities are built upon, that is in fact the essence of cities … How much does he or she cost? Not much. How much are they worth? Almost priceless. Your butcher example is the same. Either way, I have some faith, for if we’re trading human contact or urban experience against tech, the latter will lose out, as people have been voting for the former for millennia. People may wake up to that sooner or later, and better synthesise people, place and tech. Let’s make it sooner.

Designer, urbanist, etc. Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, Swedish govt’s innovation agency. Visiting prof UCL Bartlett IIPP + Design Academy Eindhoven

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