UN Secretary-General: We risk “massive unemployment” unless we start preparing for automation

We need to start preparing for the major upheaval that automation is bringing to avoid large-scale unemployment, António Guterres, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations has warned.

Speaking at the opening night of Web Summit, Guterres said that technological advances risked producing significant levels of unemployment across the world, and that action was needed across all sectors of society to prevent this.

“We risk to have massive unemployment, both in the developed and the developing world, with the development of some of the new technologies we are facing,” Guterres said. “The answer is not, of course, to stop that development, the answer is to be able to adapt the way we work in our societies in order to be able to anticipate these trends, instead of responding to it when it comes and doing it too late, as it sometimes has happened in the past.

“It’s important to think about how we can make sure that innovation is a force for good. And there are, I think, two things we need to avoid. First is the stupid reaction to say let’s stop innovation, and it is stupid because it is impossible, and second to avoid the naive approach to think that traditional forms of regulation, like the ones we have today for energy or for the financial system or the insurance system, can solve the problem. “

António Guterres, who is the former prime minister of Portugal, became secretary-general of the UN earlier this year

The solution, he argued, is to change the very way we learn, so that we move from the traditional approach of acquiring a set of skills in youth that keep up in work for life to a world where we are forever learning and adapting to the changing times.

“That means a revolution and a massive investment in education and training,” he said. “The education we need for the future is different from the education we are used to discussing, it’s not how to learn to do things, but how to learn how to learn, because the things we do will not be done tomorrow.

“And the way we think of our education systems need to be essentially reformed.”

He also alluded to basic income, a proposed replacement for benefits that would see everyone in a country receive a flat rate of base pay, regardless of whether they were also in employment or not.

“Social safety nets need also to change, and even the way we look at work and leisure, the way we divide our time, the way we divide our lives, will have to change quite dramatically.”

Guterres spoke during the opening night of Web Summit, which kicked off the major technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday. Images courtesy of Web Summit

Such a dramatic change, he argued, would need to be driven by collaboration between all sectors of society.

“It is absolutely essential that governments, the civil society, the business sector, the academia work together, discuss together, raise these issues that have been ignored in the public debate, because those are the issues that will allow us to be able to face the future and to avoid the mistakes of the past,” said Guterres.

“And my appeal to those that are at this Web Summit: governments, businesses, academia, researchers, scientists, is to start seriously discussing the impacts of the fourth industrial revolution in the societies of tomorrow.”

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