WOERRC Research Seminar: In the shadow of the jobless future: new technology, institutions and power – comparing Norway and the UK with Professor Jonathan Payne

This research seminar is hosted by the Work Organisation and Employment Relations Research Centre (WOERRC) at Sheffield University Management School.


Professor Johnathan Payne, De Montfort University

Abstract There has recently been much debate around robotics and artificial intelligence (RAI) and their implications for work, employment and society. A raft of publications refer to a new technological paradigm, captured by terms such as a ‘second machine age’ (Brynjolfssen and McAfee 2014) or ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (Schwabb 2016), with fears that this could result in mass technological unemployment. Such accounts recall earlier doom-laden predictions of a ‘jobless future’ (Aronowitz and Di Fazio 1994) or ‘the end of work’ (Rifkin 1996) that never materialised. However, some claim that ‘This time, it is different’, with not only routine jobs but ‘middle-class’ professional occupations in the firing line (Ford 2016). These accounts are however heavy on speculation and anecdote. The debate has also been heavily influenced by a small number of studies seeking to predict ‘risk of job loss’ and although estimates vary enormously the effect has only been to add to the feverish speculation (Frey and Osborne 2017, Arntz et al 2016).

Studies of technology have long emphasised the pitfalls of technological determinism and the need to understand the role of power and interests in shaping whether and how technology is used and its effects on jobs, skill requirements and job quality, foregrounding social and political choices, and a range of potential outcomes (Braverman 1974, Knights and Wilmott 1988, Howcroft and Taylor 2014). What role can states, institutions and social actors play? Do we see differences between advanced capitalist countries and can this inform debate around more progressive responses? In a field currently dominated by speculation, argument and ‘think pieces’, where there is very little cross-national comparative research on RAI (Neufeind et al 2018), this presentation compares the UK and Norway. Are there national differences in the way that public policy and institutional arrangements are developing to support and shape innovation in RAI and its diffusion? How do actors closely engaged with the development of these technologies, their transfer to industry and their implementation view the pace of robotisation and its likely consequences for employment and skills? The research is based on 24 interviews, undertaken in 2017, with state funding organisations, RAI scientists, technology companies and employer and trade union representatives, with a particular focus on food manufacturing and hospitals as exploratory sectors. Drawing on these interviews and a range of policy documents, the presentation provides some initial reflections on public policy choices and contributes to debates on the role of national institutions and models of innovation.

Biography Jonathan Payne is Professor of Work, Employment & Skills. Director, People, Organisations & Work Institute (POWI). Department of Politics, People & Place at De Montfort University


  • 16.30 - Refreshments in the courtyard cafe

  • 17.00 - Talk takes place in Meeting Rooms 1&2

Event Details

When: November 20, 2018 at 4:30pm—6:30pm

Where: Conduit Road, Sheffield, S10 1FL

Type: Alumni, Student, Business

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