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A recent report released by the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills has called on the incoming government to take seriously the impact of robots to the British economy. The report, “Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future”, warns that automation could put 35% of UK jobs at risk over the next 20 years. Workers at most risk include those working in transport, logistics, administration, sales and construction. Taxi and bus drivers were singled out as being at risk from driver-less car technology.

The Committee notes that for net job loss on a large scale to be avoided, a substantial number of more skills-intensive jobs will have to be created: “In the past, workers have adapted to technological revolutions by acquiring new skills. To manage the coming transition successfully, an overhaul of the skills of the entire population is crucial.”

The world is being transformed by a series of profound technological changes dominated by Digital. This is often referred to as ‘the second machine age’. It is already having a significant impact on the UK. Over the next two decades, some economists have estimated that 35% of current jobs in the UK could become automated.

Digital technology is changing all aspects of our lives: work, society and politics. It brings with it huge opportunities for the UK, but also significant risks.
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AUS&R2015_728x90This demands an ambitious approach which will secure the UK’s position as a digital leader. “We recommend that the new government establishes a single and cohesive Digital Agenda,” notes the report, citing the potential value in doing so is significant.

The current government estimated that the digital sector alone was worth an estimated £105 billion in gross value added to the UK in 2011. A report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in 2013, meanwhile, found that the size of the digital economy was almost double official estimates. Whatever the difficulties in quantifying the value, it is clear that digital is already a substantial driver for growth and will become much more so.

Digital technology is transforming much more than just one sector of the economy—the whole economy has become digitized. It would therefore be a mistake to take the ‘digital sector’ as our sole focus of interest. Digital technology is pervasive across all aspects of life, so much so that the ‘digital economy’ is becoming synonymous with the national economy.

The UK cannot afford to miss the opportunity or shirk the challenges this presents. The report is a call to action for whichever government assumes office after the general election this May.