The difference between the robots of today and all previous forms of automation is that they are so flexible (Editorial, 25 November). Intelligent robots will be utilised in any new enterprise rather than people now because the financial returns are likely to be so much greater, given that there will be no recruitment difficulties, wage demands, overtime claims, strikes, sickness absence, pensions, transport or housing problems to take care of. Factories can be situated anywhere, and HS2 could be redundant before it becomes operational.

In the past, workers displaced by automation could rely on new industries springing up to take them on, but in future these will create far more jobs for robots than people across the board. Our whole economic system, which concentrates on profitability and economics rather than the welfare of the population, can only encourage this trend. What we need is a new economic system.
Dr Richard Turner
Beverley, East Yorkshire

Your editorial on productivity and robots repeated the cliche that automation does cost jobs, but more are created. The problem with this is that the new jobs are frequently in different places from where they are lost and require very different skills, hence exacerbating the problems for the “left behind”. Also unmentioned was that just as this automation is starting to really bite, the world faces a strong possibility of another serious credit-induced economic downturn, from China to the UK. Thus we have the potential of the prefect storm of domestic unemployment soaring and export markets falling as happened after the 2008 economic slump.

The answer to these problems has to be a shift of emphasis to rebuilding the local economy by prioritising labour-intensive sectors that are difficult to automate and impossible to relocate abroad. Two sectors are key: face-to-face caring from medicine, education and elderly care through to carbon-reducing national infrastructural renewal. This should range from making the UK’s 30m buildings energy efficient, constructing new low-carbon dwellings and rebuilding local public transport links. Funding could come from fairer taxes, the availability for savers of investments in local authority bonds and green Isas and a massive new green infrastructure QE programme. The reason this approach must become central to all political parties and their next election manifestos is the crucial vote winning mantra of “jobs in absolutely every constituency”.
Colin Hines
Convenor, UK Green New Deal Group

The Paris climate change agreement seeks decarbonisation by 2050. This will mean a world running primarily on renewable electricity – for the economy, domestically and for transport. Renewable energy generation will be decentralised as will the economy. The Oxford Martin School sees automation affecting a very high proportion of service as well as industrial employment. Consumerism will be a thing of the past (“peak stuff”), as will commuting. Much transport will be automated with vehicle ownership replaced by “transport as a service”, purchased on demand. Most will have a “living wage”, supplemented by a regional and local exchange economy based on social credits. Taxation will be primarily on assets rather than income.

Unrealistic and fanciful? If you think so, could the Guardian promote an informed debate on a synoptic social, economic and environmental look at the probabilities for 2050? The rise of the robots is only part of the story. The end of mass paid employment has huge and wider implications. Please do take up the challenge.
Roger Read
Troon, Ayrshire

The government’s announcement that fully driverless cars will be on UK roads by 2021 is indeed “very challenging” (Report, 23 November). Cars already contain 100m lines of software and researchers have demonstrated that they can take over the brakes and steering remotely. It is not feasible to prove that a complex system is secure against cyber-attack by testing it, so if the government wants high confidence that driverless cars cannot be hacked it will have to change the way that the entire motor industry and its suppliers develop, maintain and support their software. Without such radical changes, autonomous cars and lorries will become the terrorists’ weapon of choice, criminals will rejoice in the new opportunities for ransomware, and foreign governments will have an easy way to attack the UK in cyberspace.
Martyn Thomas
Professor of IT, Gresham College, London

What bunk it was to read in the article on robotics (So what time do we clock off?, Weekend, 25 November) that workers in an Amazon warehouse were referred to as being “human colleagues” of robotic machines. I mean, I am not a colleague of my kettle and certainly am not unduly matey with my record player. As your editorial on the same day asserted, “this cannot be our future”.
Tony Moon
Hove, East Sussex

If the robots do take over all our jobs, who will buy all of the things we need, never mind all of those things we can do without?
David Reed

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November 26, 2017 at 05:03PM