1828: Hysteria over robots ‘taking our jobs’ is nonsensical 

Humanity cannot and will not adapt to such a degree that it eliminates its ability to sustain itself.

This article was first published on 1828.

For all the mediocrity of ITV2’s sitcom Plebs, it has several redeemable features that mark it out as a pertinent piece of social satire. Set in Ancient Rome, it follows the main characters’ eternally doomed antics in business and love. Many of the comedic moments within the series derive from the occupations of the four protagonists: copier, shredder, slave and water carrier. Notably, these jobs rely on a specific human physical activity and are therefore considered to be fairly permanent areas of employment.

These hapless Romans would be forgiven for slipping into total panic and existential dread if they were to be told that a future world with machines would render their employment useless.

Yet our society has brought with it innumerable job opportunities owing to technology. Nonetheless, current changes are fuelling a nonsensical widespread hysteria that millions of jobs are about to imminently disappear.

In spite of the immeasurable benefits that new technology has gifted humanity, our relentless pessimism insists that the apocalypse is just around the corner. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the relentless doomsday rhetoric of public figures such as Frankie Boyle who, like most so-called comedians, has become more of a propagandist than an entertainer.

The irrational fear that the “end is nigh” plays out across the jobs market. It is the paranoia that within the next few decades millions of hardworking citizens will be turfed out of employment, with hordes of Robocop-esque machines ushered in to take their places.

Indeed, within the world of academia, researchers have spent a great deal of public money conducting “studies” that supposedly support the claims of the stirrers of panic. The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that 13.7 million British jobs will be lost in the robot revolution and an oft-cited 2013 study from the University of Oxford reaches the particularly alarming conclusion that a gargantuan 47 per cent of jobs in the US are “at high risk” of automation.

Even the Bank of England has got in on the act, inciting further consternation by announcing its belief that 15 million jobs will be lost in the UK as the robots take over. This is why over half of Americans surveyed told a Gallup poll that they saw artificial intelligence as the biggest threat to the nation’s jobs, and why a Pew Research poll found that nearly three-quarters of respondents were seriously concerned about machines performing tasks currently done by humans.

The extensiveness of these beliefs is staggering given their ludicrousness. The fact that the global population will almost certainly plateau at around 11 billion before the end of the century should eliminate anxieties stemming from the notion of an exponentially increasing population. Moreover, the face of employment will inescapably continue to change as society evolves around new technology. Inevitably, as the development of technology accelerates, the parallel evolution of economies and societies will appear more drastic but bear no major negative consequences in the longer term.

If the mainstream media had existed as it does today in the mid-eighteenth century, it would almost certainly have whipped up a comparable mass hysteria to the Industrial Revolution. Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been portrayed as either a self-serving elitist figure or a dangerous anti-establishment pseudo-anarchist, depending on your political leanings.

Yet, throughout the Industrial Revolution, workers migrated to the cities en masse and found exciting new career opportunities operating, repairing and improving the supposedly evil machines. The revolution facilitated the creation of entirely new, previously inconceivable industries and the bringing about of endless new jobs. Within a few decades, employment levels reached all-time highs. In that sense, the Industrial Revolution is directly comparable to the increased use of robot-like machinery today.

And greater technological advances have been made in the past 200 years than in previous millennia. Thanks to technology, by the time the current millennial generation reaches middle age, human life expectancy will be notably higher and the world will look completely different to how it does at present.

As Hegel would be shouting incessantly were he still alive, humanity cannot and will never adapt to such a degree that it eliminates its ability to sustain itself. That is simply not the way society works. We are currently enjoying the fastest technological and societal development in human history, but rest assured that future generations will look back on this mass hysteria with the same condescension with which we now view the Y2K panic and the Mayan 2012 phenomenon.

Backbench: Theresa May is criminally underpraised for her phenomenal leadership 

What our Prime Minister has quietly achieved over the last two years is nothing short of astonishing.

This article was first published on Backbench.

In recent days, a major step toward completing the all-encompassing project that is Brexit has been taken for the first time in what seems like many decades. Theresa May has secured the backing of her Cabinet (well, most of it) for her final, official, it’s-the-real-thing-this-time Brexit proposal and is now busily packing her bags full of digestives and pictures of Nigel Lawson as she prepares to jet off to Brussels to present the work of her premiership to the overlords of Europe.

What our Prime Minister has quietly achieved over the past two years is nothing short of astonishing. During her first days in office, she purged the Cameron government in the most ground-shaking reshuffle in recent, or indeed distant memory, installing in its place a perfect cocktail of Brexiteers and Remainers.

Since then, she has weathered at least five high-profile cabinet resignations, not to mention a national and international press extraordinarily unanimous in its portrayal of a government in disarray, bewildered by the complexities of Brexit and hopelessly pushed around by the big boys of Europe, without so much as flinching.

In the face of this unprecedented united front against her, she could have been forgiven for crying out in desperation and leaping onto the Trumpian wagon of screaming ‘fake news’ every time something doesn’t go entirely to plan. Rather, she opted to continue working away quietly on her ingenious strategy for executing the most complex manoeuvre in British political history.

The long list of onerous calls Theresa May has had to make in her time as Prime Minister appears endless and she has got it right practically every time, even under extreme pressure. Her adept deal-making to form a government in the aftermath of the general election and her flawless management of her government to seemingly always get her way on the things that matter display a political aptitude unseen since Thatcher. The only poor call she has made concerned the election itself and, as we know, that one was largely made by others.

Regarding Brexit, without batting an eyelid as the world has watched and scorned her continually and groundlessly, she has calmly done what needed to be done. Recently, she has expertly faced down parliamentary rebellions led by Dominic Grieve during the passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill and, of course, struggled to keep together an incredibly volatile Cabinet that continues to pull itself in entirely different directions to the point of self-destruction.

The way she did those things is almost indiscernible and essentially indescribable in its brilliance. From the outside, coming up with any kind of hypothetically functional Brexit deal seemed like an impossible task, let alone winning Cabinet support for it. The same goes for the spectacular astuteness displayed in her dogged defeat of Tory rebels and persistent Lords opposition to the sovereignty of government.

This is all in addition to her countless other forgotten victories, such as surviving the attempted coup by former party chairman Grant Shapps without suffering so much as a scratch in October of last year, as well as her masterly handling of the Windrush scandal and the allegations of widespread sexual misconduct in Westminster at the height of the #MeToo movement. In all these cases and countless others, May has exhibited an unparalleled leadership ability.

Looking forward, she has altered the Brexit universe in a way everyone thought impossible. She has reasserted her position of authority in public as well as in private and veritably reintroduced the threat of a No Deal Brexit. Following the Chequers summit, her freshly subdued minion Michael Gove toddled off to the BBC to reinstate ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ as the official mantra of this government as it heads into the hardest and most salient part of the Brexit process.

The threat of turning over the tables Christ-style by pulling out of the negotiations and leaving the EU with no divorce bill and no trade deal is indispensable in ensuring Britain’s strong negotiating position in order to avoid subjugation at the hands of the Euro crew. Two years ago, said negotiating position appeared as strong as could reasonably be expected.

It is only because of the aforementioned united anti-May media front that the substance of the threat of No Deal has gradually disintegrated along with any hope of avoiding the Euro-bullying decried by that very same press; the PM watched on as public confidence in her government’s delivery of Brexit put a pistol in its mouth and pulled the trigger. That is, until this week, when her ruthless politics put the possibility of No Deal very much back on the table and thereby shored up Britain’s position at the crucial juncture.

It took nothing less than perfectly timed, perfectly judged political brutality from this astonishingly talented Prime Minister to prevent Brexit from deteriorating into the shambles that it could so easily have become. She will, of course, continue to not only be criminally underpraised but also viciously and unjustly attacked from all sides for even the most negligible misdemeanour in the coming months as she utilises her astounding political shrewdness to either obtain the best feasible Brexit deal or confidently walk away from the EU altogether. With or without David Davis and Boris Johnson.

If European leaders are not quaking in their boots right now, then they are even more incompetent than us.