March 16, 2021 | Documents

There is a growing concern in public discussions that automation could soon make human labor obsolete, depriving workers from their livelihood and sense of belonging while enriching capital owners and powerful tech companies.

Building on recent advances in the economics literature, this report aims to delineate the state of knowledge on the impact of machines on the future of work and to offer guidance on how to prepare societies for the arrival of intelligent machines.

Our report highlights that automation technologies will significantly change our economies but will likely not – at least in the foreseeable future – make human labor obsolete. Yet, the transformation and displacement of traditional tasks and occupations have the potential to generate significant disruptions of labor markets with implications for wellbeing, and the distribution of incomes.

From a policy point of view, a just and inclusive transition towards increased use of automation technologies requires a stronger involvement of governments. Besides a demand for policies that promote more equal labor market outcomes, there is a need for a more equal sharing of the gains of economic growth. Steering technology towards labor augmenting innovations and correcting the imbalance in the taxation of capital and labor are key policy measures that would set the right conditions and incentives for firms to create jobs rather than to replace humans with machines. Moreover, to prepare workers for new tasks and facilitate their adaptation to a changing workplace, smart education policies are needed.

Cover photo by Alex Knigh on Unsplash

Johannes Buggle, UNIL-HEC & E4S

Paula Cacault, EPFL & E4S

Jean-Pierre Danthine, EPFL & E4S