A new report from the Institute for the Future of Work argues that policymakers need a better framework for understanding the risks automation poses to job quality beyond just the threat of job losses.
The report, “Reframing Automation: A New Model for Anticipating Risks and Impacts,” is part of the Institute’s Pissarides Review into the Future of Work and Wellbeing, funded by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation. It offers a taxonomy of six types of automation: displacement, creation, augmentation, intensification, telepresence, and matching.
According to the report, automation is commonly seen as simply replacing human labor. However, the authors argue automation should be understood as a series of design choices that can transform work in a variety of ways, with different impacts.
While displacement threatens job losses, other types of automation like intensification and low-discretion augmentation can reduce autonomy, skills utilization, and job quality even as workers remain employed.
For example, the report explains how algorithmic management tools used by some firms aim to reduce employee discretion, codifying work processes in ways that allow less experienced workers to be hired at lower wages.
The report also highlights how technologies enabling remote work can lead to work intensification and constant connectivity rather than flexibility.
According to the authors, policymakers tend to focus narrowly on preparing workers for displacement through retraining programs. But regulating technology’s impacts will require a more nuanced understanding of how automation can degrade job quality in multiple ways.
The report argues that different groups experience the impacts of automation unequally. For instance, roles dominated by women or minorities may be more likely to see declining autonomy or intensified demands.
By delineating automation’s varied impacts, the new framework aims to identify better interventions to ensure technology contributes to social progress and shared prosperity.
The report is available to download here.