Covid-19 Will Only Increase Automation Anxiety


Financial Times  | Tue, Apr 21, 2020

by Carl Benedikt Frey


This article is a part of a series in which the Financial Times asks leading commentators and policymakers what to expect from a post-Covid-19 future

Historically, depressions have inflamed automation anxiety. Wars, in contrast, often end them. In the US, the machinery debates of the 1920s and 30s began with labour secretary James J. Davis’s famous 1927 speech. Yet panic only set in during the Depression, and only faded with US entry into the second world war. As Covid-19 is often described as a warlike event, and one that has also tipped the world into recession, will it end or exacerbate our automation concerns?

One reason the second world war brought automation anxiety to an end is that everyone had to work at full capacity to beat the Axis powers. Recessions have the opposite effect: they leave working people with deteriorating job options, making the prospect of being replaced by a robot seem much worse.

Unlike the war, Covid-19 requires people to stay at home. Furthermore, with jobless claims rising at record rates and the world economy shrinking, automation anxiety looks set to witness a revival — and with good reason. Coronavirus is likely to accelerate automation.

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