A top U.K. lawmaker warned that, people who work in technology could become as hated as bankers, as employees in the sector get richer and asset prices rise.
Nat Wei, a member of Britain’s second chamber, the House of Lords, described a situation in which people feel excluded from the technology boom amid an appreciation in asset prices, such as real estate.
He named it “tech-lash.” He claimed that the technology industry’s success in many pockets of the world, such as San Francisco, had left whole communities behind.
“Certain people will find they are excluded from the tech boom and the tech industry, and are not able to access the asset appreciation. Instead they feel a sense of resentment,” Wei said, during a speech at London Technology Week on Wednesday.
He stated that, “At some point that will turn, and maybe those of us who work in the tech industry will be just as embarrassed as bankers and treated as badly, sadly, as some bankers are.”
Fear of ‘getting beaten up’
Wei said that during a visit to San Francisco’s Bay Area last year, he met Google employees that refused to say they worked for the tech giant. There was a “risk they will get beaten up.”
Pointing to riots in Hong Kong and London in the past few years, Wei claimed that, “something minor” had the potential to trigger civil unrest. More people found it hard to access jobs, such as coding.
Underlying the resentment, according to Wei, is the fear of robots taking over jobs, such as manual labor tasks. In the U.K., 35 percent of jobs could be replaced by automation in the next 20 years, a Deloitte study showed. That figure rises to 47 percent in the U.S., according to researchers at Oxford University.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, told CNBC that there was an “increasing fear of technology,” and other high-profile technologists. This includes Tesla boss Elon Musk and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. They have expressed concern over the future roles of robots and artificial intelligence (AI).
Wei, who is the youngest member of the House of Lord, said “there is hope” and a “transition plan” needed to be put in place for jobs that could be under threat. For example, employees could be offered shares in companies.
“It’s ownership of something – a company, a house, something scarce – that robots, big data, AI can’t do. That allows you to get wealth,” Wei said. He also said that, The automation of jobs could actually create more jobs too..
Robots could take over waiting jobs in a restaurants, but people will be needed to maintain the machines. People who have been displaced, could retrain and return to work, in more advanced roles.
The automation of roles will make society richer as people take up more advanced employment, Wei claimed.
“We’ll all be richer when more people are doing jobs they’re interested in, which match their skill levels. This means there is more surplus (of profit) in companies, which means it will feed through into higher wages or investment and then you get the virtuous cycle. Right now that isn’t happening,” he added.
Image credit: CC by Dan Thornton