2CC Breakfast

25 September 2017


SUBJECT/S: New book ‘Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age’


ROD HENSHAW: Let’s get futuristic for a few moments, not that it’s in my DNA to do so, but artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, they’ve been in vogue for a while now. But they’re changing the way we work, they’re causing anxiety for a lot of modern workers. A new book by Jim Chalmers and Mike Quigley is looking at the changing face of work and how we approach it. The book is called ‘Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age.’ Jim Chalmers, of course, the Federal MP and also the Shadow Minister for Finance is one of the authors. Jim, good morning.


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Good morning Rod, how’s your Monday so far?


HENSHAW: Oh, holiday-ish.


CHALMERS: (Laughter) Mixed bag?


HENSHAW: (Laughter) Holiday-ish. I’m sort of in holiday mode and I shouldn’t be. So God knows what I’m going to do when I can knock off at nine o’clock, I’ll be really in holiday mode.


CHALMERS: Off for a round at Federal?


HENSHAW: (Laughter) No, I don’t play golf, I don’t play golf. The only time I play golf, the only true time I hit balls was when I stood on a rake. And that was bad news. (Laughter) You can tell I’m in holiday-mode can’t you? (Laughter) Are we on delay? I should cut this out shouldn’t I?


CHALMERS: (Laughter) That’s right, is this live Rod?!


HENSHAW: (Laughter) I forgot. Okay, well people have broad minds anyway. It sounds scary, not my golf, it sounds scary but not surprising. We’ve been moving in that direction for some years now towards automation and artificial intelligence haven’t we?


CHALMERS: We have and there is a lot of anxiety in the community and in the country about where people fit in workplaces, in particular, increasingly dominated by machines. I think there’s an enormous upside to technological change. It has the capacity to address if not overcome so many of the barriers to a good life in a thriving society. But there’s a lot of anxiety as well. This book from Mike and I is all about our belief that we can deal with the most challenging aspects of technological change without denying ourselves those broader benefits.


HENSHAW: Where do you see the most vulnerable work areas Jim, where machines do take over from humans? There are some areas, I would imagine, it’s just impossible for a machine to take over.


CHALMERS: I think all jobs will change Rod. There’s a wide diversity of predictions about which jobs will go and which will be destroyed and how many will be destroyed and how many will be created. The best way to think about it is all jobs will change. As you alluded to earlier, we’ve been conditioned historically and traditionally to think that automation or robotics is just something that impacts on process work, on factory work, those kinds of lower skilled jobs. But the reality is that artificial intelligence and machine learning and all of this technology is actually going up the income scale. What’s happening is we’re seeing the hollowing out of middle income jobs. Jobs which we would traditionally think would be immune, like language translators for example, jobs that require the recognition of patterns and recognition of speech and those sorts of things. Those middle income jobs are being hollowed out and that has consequences for people who then move down the income scale and that then has consequences for inequality and wages as well.


HENSHAW: I’m just thinking of those sort of jobs, I’m thinking of the overall picture now of automation, of artificial intelligence and robotics. Robotics, I guess comes into things like aviation, where we’ve got auto-pilots and all this sort of thing, and computers that actually fly the plane and can even land them these days. But, you’re at the stage these days, particularly with Airbus, to a lesser degree with Boeing, but they have, Airbus for instance, computers that are damned hard for the pilots to override if anything went wrong. In other words, there was always the need for the human element and more so in this one, because they actually had to teach high flying pilots how to fly properly, how to handle an aeroplane.


CHALMERS: Aviation’s a good example Rod because it’s one of those professions where automation and artificial intelligence have replaced some aspects of being a pilot but not all aspects of being a pilot. As you rightly say, those human aspects remain. There’s other ways to think about that too. A lot of people say, as we’ve talked about this book over the last year or eighteen months as we’ve been writing it, Mike Quigley and I, and people say to us ‘which jobs are safe?’ The reality is all jobs will change, as I said before. But the jobs which are harder to replace are the ones that need a bit of physical dexterity, the ones that need situational awareness or intensive human interaction or creativity or emotional intelligence or warmth. Those are the sorts of jobs which are less susceptible to automation and machine learning and artificial intelligence. The sorts of jobs that are not necessarily routine, they’ve got inter-personal elements, creative elements and they’ve got diverse environments. That example that you just raised, that’s got a lot of decision making and diversity in those environments, which means we can use technology to augment those jobs but not necessarily completely replace them.    


HENSHAW: Let’s talk about the evolution of the whole thing. We looked into the future, obviously, and it’s going to become more automatic if you like and certainly more robotic as we go into the future. How much of this is evolution and how much is it scientific wish list for instance?


CHALMERS: The big change has been the extraordinary growth in computing power and the sophistication of algorithms, which can learn from processes like speech or image recognition or those sorts of things. The combination of computing power and algorithms has meant that this revolution, which is really the seventh big revolution in our workplaces and in our societies over thousands and thousands of years, this one’s a bit different because of that combination. Machines have the capacity to learn from their processes so they get stronger and stronger and more and more effective. That’s why this one’s a bit different, it’s partly evolution but it’s also a very different proposition to the things we saw, for example, in the agricultural revolutions or the industrial revolutions or even the computer revolution which is the most recent before now. 


HENSHAW: So how are humans going to address this Jim? How are they going to take a different approach to getting and keeping a job? Will there be jobs for them to get and keep?


CHALMERS: That is exactly the right question Rod. That’s the main question that really concerns us in this book called ‘Changing Jobs’ and we pitch up thirty-three different ideas, different policy directions, the sorts of things we need to be thinking about. Because we can’t kid ourselves that we can have this massive change in our workplace and in our society and not have that accompanied by big changes in how we think about schools, for example, how we teach and train our teachers; how we focus on computational thinking in our schools; how do we get in nice and early with needs-based early intervention, so that kids don’t fall behind in the machine age. Also, how do we rethink things like social security; how do we rethink life-long learning; how do we rethink industrial relations, so that people have minimum standards and they can take those minimum standards from one job to another. One of the main things that we’re seeing, and technology will turbocharge this, we’re seeing that people are having more and more transitions between jobs. If you graduate from high school right now there in Canberra, you’re likely to have something like seventeen different employers in your career and five completely different careers. We need to get good at training people for the next opportunity and we need to get good at making sure that people have income as they make those transitions.


HENSHAW: Finally Jim, why does a Federal MP and a bloke who’s pretty busy being Shadow Minister for Finance, why does he take it upon himself to – have you got too much time on your hands? – why did you take it upon yourself to sit down with Mike Quigley and write a book?


CHALMERS: You’re neglecting to mention two little kids too, Rod!


HENSHAW: Yep, there you go.


CHALMERS: I see this as central. I see this as core business for a Member of Parliament. I get this raised with me all around my community and around the country. This is probably the defining anxiety I think that people have, not just about their own jobs but what kind of jobs that their kids and grandkids will be doing. There are a lot of us in the Labor Party, Ed Husic and others, Brendan O’Connor, a whole range of colleagues, putting a lot of thought into this challenge. This is the key challenge of the time that I hope to spend in the Parliament and so it’s important that we make the time to think deeply about it.


HENSHAW: The book, it’s called ‘Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the Machine Age’. It’s available in all good book shops I take it?


CHALMERS: It is. All good book shops and online, you can go to the Black Inc website and order it there, it’s also on iBooks.


HENSHAW: Great to talk to you Jim, thanks for your time this morning.


CHALMERS: Good on you Rod, thanks very much


HENSHAW: Thanks Jim, Jim Chalmers the Federal Labor MP and Shadow Minister for Finance.