We chat with the economist, author of ‘Is an algorithm going to replace you?’, about the impact of digitization and the pandemic on the future of the labor market
The job it is changing. In recent years, the digitization and the increasing use of technology have transformed the working market and enlightened new models of employment. Accelerated after the outbreak of the covid crisis, this trend is expected to displace up to 85 million jobs worldwide. How will it affect us?
That is what the Madrid economist Lucia Velasco study and analyze in the book ‘Is an algorithm going to replace you?‘ (Turner). At 39 years old, she has worked as an advisor to the presidency and various ministries of the Spanish Government as well as the European Commission and is currently the director of the National Observatory of Technology and Society (ONTSI).
Studies indicate that algorithms will affect between 12% and 47% of jobs. Are they coming to take our jobs?
Technological disruption is changing work. People are going to be increasingly inundated with technology while companies have realized that it benefits their growth. Perhaps there will be cases in which algorithms will replace certain tasks, but in most cases it will be a matter of living with them.
Will this digital acceleration have a greater impact in a market like the Spanish one?
Yes, the combined crisis we are experiencing affects us more because our productive model, based on services and tourism, does not allow us to take advantage of technology as much and because in our labor market there is a lot of duality and growing precariousness. There are more and more people without job protection and with shitty contracts.
“Platforms are breaking the social contract and pushing the population out of the system”
How has the emergence of platform capitalism contributed to this?
The platforms are breaking the social contract and pushing the population out of the system. You have to prevent their model, which tells you that riding a bike and carrying a backpack is being an entrepreneur, but paying for everything yourself. The system works when you pay taxes so that the State gives you protection, while the platforms put all the labor risk on the worker. And if you’re sick, it’s your problem.
It seems that we have absorbed the individualistic model that prevails in the United States…
Europe has a common idea of well-being in the face of an individualism that accelerates inequality. We cannot sell as a panacea for personal success that a person has to individually negotiate their working conditions with the employer. Undertaking and innovating is necessary and very important, but it is dangerous to romanticize the culture of entrepreneurship to end up working in a bad way.
“It is dangerous to romanticize the culture of entrepreneurship to end up working in a bad way”
Have we let the platform model drive a new digital proletariat in the name of innovation?
Yes, innovation has been used as a mantra not to be regulated, nobody wants to be accused of holding back progress. Another problem that has brought us here is the lack of knowledge of those who have made decisions, profiles of high public function unfamiliar with technological environments who have not been able to deal with it and have preferred to stand aside so that justice can make the decisions. A labor market that respects the rights of workers must be established by politics, not justice. The rise of the platform model has been when they have looked the other way.
How can we govern technology so that it has a positive social impact?
Digitization in general will bring positive things but it has externalities that we must be aware of. That process depends on the rules you create. Digitizing thinking about the benefits of companies is different than doing it thinking about people. There are many rights that we are guaranteed in the analog world but that are diluted in the online world and must be defended.
“Automation raises ethical questions”
More and more companies use Artificial Intelligence systems for job interviews and job supervision.
There are large Spanish companies that use them, but there is little information about it. AI is more efficient than having ten people doing a job, but we have to see what selection criteria it uses to avoid, for example, giving better scores to those who have studied at private universities and discriminating against a significant part of the population. Automation raises ethical questions.
We have sacralized the machines. Does the myth that they are accurate and do not fail make it difficult to monitor their use?
It seems that everything they say is irrefutable and it is not. Beyond the technical details, the control of these systems depends on political will.
“It is essential to audit the algorithms and inform people to decide if they want to live in a hyper-surveillance society”
Is there a lack of transparency in Spain to register and audit these algorithms?
Completely. Until now this issue has never been on the Spanish agenda. Work is beginning along these lines and it is essential that the algorithms are audited and that people are informed so that they can decide whether or not they want to live in a hyper-monitored society.
Beyond the promise of growth, digitization can also increase inequality. What about those with less digital literacy, such as the elderly?
It is something horrible because they live it with great anguish. We’ve seen it with ATM withdrawals. We must promote projects so that everyone can have digital skills. We must digitize at the speed that we can accompany those who are being left behind.
And with those who do not want to be part of that hyperconnection?
Regardless of whether or not you want to be part of it, we should all have basic skills to move in a digital environment, the same goes for life in cities. Of course, the luxury of the future will be disconnection.
“Women hold the most low-paid jobs. And those are the ones that will suffer the most from digitization.”
The polarization and job insecurity hits women more. Can digitization accentuate or reverse this burden?
A year ago I would have told you that digitization is an opportunity, but now it worries me a lot. Many women hold low-paying jobs, such as the care economy (health and education) or the administrative part or the cashiers. Those low-skilled jobs are the ones that may suffer the most from digitization.
This situation has led to the “Great Resignation & rdquor ;, that more and more people in countries like the United States or Italy leave their jobs & mldr;
The salary degradation is so great compared to the cost of living that it has generated a lot of boredom. If you can’t consider going on a trip, how will you consider having a family? We are all a bit on edge, enduring general fear and stress. So many prefer to be at home rather than in a low-paying job. Still, that situation doesn’t happen so much here.