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Virgin boss warns industry of pending automation backlash

Thu 2 Mar 2017

A senior director for Virgin Australia has warned business leaders that the current rush to automate labour with robots and artificial intelligence is likely to engender ‘pushback’ from an increasingly alienated and disregarded services sector workforce.

Virgin Australia chairwoman Elizabeth Bryan, speaking at the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ governance summit in Melbourne, acknowledged that service sector jobs – representing the biggest employment demographic in Australia – are now losing their immunity from globalisation and automation, but that companies embracing the prospect have hard political and social roadblocks ahead.

“[Don’t] think for a moment,” Bryan commented. “that boards will be able to drive waves of mass reduction in employment without very serious pushback.”

Bryan additionally warned that the race towards automation is threatening university-educated workers in white collar positions, commenting “This means that education will not necessarily offer effective protection against job automation in the future,”

The comments appear to be elliptically aimed at higher political bodies than the business community, and it’s a topic that has engaged governments increasingly over the past year

In February Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban questioned the validity of Donald Trump’s isolationist economics in the face of employment threats which are not coming from overseas, but from research and manufacturing at home and abroad.

Mavericks told CNBC “I’m willing to bet that these companies building new plants…this will lead to fewer people being employed,” and predicted that “people aren’t going to have jobs.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, one of a small handful of world leaders in the development of autonomous vehicles, also acknowledged that month the potential societal and economic disruption of his own field of research: “[There] are many people whose jobs are to drive. In fact I think it might be the single largest employer of people…Driving in various forms. So we need to figure out new roles for what do those people do, but it will be very disruptive and very quick.”

Former Microsoft CEO and owner Bill Gates suggested in February that robots be taxed in the same way as humans, opining “If a human worker does $50,000 of work in a factory, that income is taxed,”


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