The future of work (or does work even have a future?)

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This lecture will draw on our recent research on 'the future of work'. It will consider what technological, social, cultural and economic change might really mean for the future of work and our high streets – including AI, robotics, the gig economy, and the resurgence of 'neo-artisanal' industries like craft beer, Etsy, and artisanal bakeries.

Technologists, economists and politicians alike worry about a jobless future. Artificial intelligence and developments in robotics mean that self-driving cars might well be a practical reality in the next few years.

The obstacles today are as much regulatory as they are technological. Robots are already doing much of our manufacturing work, including building cars, and the service sector may be next.

Amazon is piloting shops without cashiers and face-recognition algorithms so customers can walk in, pick up what they want, and walk out without the need for human interaction. Robotics companies are designing barista machines to serve up lattes in cafes, and sex robots are already widely available, risking automation of even 'the oldest profession'.

This lecture will consider the sociological evidence behind these claims that we might be entering a jobless future, consider what this would mean for our cities, our economy, and our high-streets, and reflect on whether this could offer a utopian future of 'automated luxury for all', or a future of surplus populations of unnecessary workers, consigned to immiseration and poverty. Or, whether both scenarios are based on fundamental misunderstandings of what work is and how work really works.

There are lots of other exciting events happening during the Chelmsford Science Festival, which runs 12-18 October. Take a look at the full programme and book your free tickets today.

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