Mastering the Robot; The Future of Work in the Second Machine Age

2015 – The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) has published a Study: ‘Mastering the Robot. The Future of Work in the Second Machine Age.’ The WRR has also provided a paper with an English translation of the first summarizing chapters.

A robot-policy agenda
‘Mastering the Robot’ focuses on the changes regarding work, caused by robotics and far-reaching forms of digitization and the paper presents an ‘inclusive robot-policy agenda’. A ‘robot-policy agenda’ is needed to ensure that robotics will benefit the economy and the workers. In this agenda the complementarity of man and machine must be central: make people more productive with robots; don’t try simply to substitute as many people by robots.

Contributions by various experts
The Study contains exposé’s by various Dutch experts who stress the significance of robotics and ICTs for the future of work. It shows that it is unlikely that in the next two decades, half of the jobs will disappear, as is predicted. Indeed, also new jobs will be created. However the nature of work and jobs will change. Robot technology is slower than often predicted and will have unexpected effects. Another conclusion is that there is too little investment in robots at least in the Netherlands. There is a risk to miss chances. Since it is possible indeed for the government, scientists, employers, workers and their organizations to influence how robotic technology is being developed and applied. To this end, an inclusive robot-policy agenda is necessary that promotes the complementarity of man and machine.

Four themes
Four themes are important:
Investing in robotics, applying co-creation. Various parties (government, academics, employers, employees) should jointly invest in robotics: new applications are to be developed together with people who will work with them.
The use of complementary knowledge and skills at all levels of education and in lifelong learning. A high education or a technical education in itself don’t offer sufficient answers to machines becoming smarter. The key question is: what tasks, relationships and responsibilities will continue to be the responsibility of people either by their nature or because we deliberately choose that is should be like that.
Ownership of work. Robot technology has the potential to enhance the quality of work and autonomy of workers, but also to worsen those characteristics. It is important to avoid negative effects such as stress and burnout and to promote job satisfaction and productivity. The key question here is how people and technology can cooperate while the people stay in control over their own work (and over the robot).
New questions of distribution. There will be people who cannot get along in the robot society. It is impossible to predict who that will be. Therefore one-size-fits-all-measures are not obvious instead a repertoire of different policy tools are needed to help and support people, and to ensure that income differences will not grow at least.

WRR Study: ‘Mastering the Robot. The Future of Work in the Second Machine Age’  Robert Went, Monique Kremer, André Knottnerus. 2015. A pdf of this paper is attached.
The paper is a translation of the Introduction and the first chapters of a WRR study, published in Dutch:
WRR-Verkenning nr. 31 ‘De robot de baas. De toekomst van werk in het tweede machinetijdperk.’  Robert Went, Monique Kremer, André Knottnerus (red.). 2015 Amsterdam University Press.