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The culture of Amelia, who doesn’t know how to create

A tale of the “globotics revolution” has just been published in Italy: a snapshot of the consequences of new technologies, and how to live alongside them

Brother robot, sister machine. Not science fiction, but not exactly reality either. However, it remains an inescapable fact that digitalisation and automation – as well as artificial intelligence and robotics – are fast becoming fundamental elements of manufacturing, and indeed of our everyday lives. In the face of this, we need to equip ourselves culturally, so that we don’t get carried away with enthusiasm, or, on the flip side, overdramatise the situation. In regard to this, reading The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work, written by Richard Baldwin and recently published in Italy, could prove to be a useful exercise, precisely because it enables us to maintain the sense of balance needed when addressing the “robot issue”.

The author – who is professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute of Geneva – begins with the premise that automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are reshaping our lives at an overwhelming pace, and that we must seek to gain an understanding of the effects they create, especially with regard to the world of work and production.

In general terms, new technologies will soon enable new talent to spill over directly into the good, stable jobs that have served as the foundation for the prosperity enjoyed by the middle classes in wealthy countries. In other words, people in different parts of the world will soon be able to be “virtually” present in the same office. One of the results of this is the possibility that the lives of millions of skilled workers will be disrupted, in a much more profound way than with either industrialisation or globalisation.

Baldwin describes this process as a globotics revolution, or to echo the title of the book, an upheaval. In the face of such an upheaval, then, we must ensure that we are prepared, particularly from a cultural perspective. Baldwin then seeks to answer a number of questions, including what measures can be taken by individuals and by governments, how we can prevent the very foundations of prosperity from being shaken to their core, and what strategies we could use to adapt.

The path that lies ahead is far from smooth. However, the author of The Globotics Upheaval provides us with a potential – and general – answer to these questions: there are some essential skills that no machine can duplicate – skills like creativity and independent thinking.

The whole book consists of around 300 highly readable pages, beginning with an account of what has already happened before moving on to explore the characteristics of the “globotics upheaval”: namely, digitalisation, automation and “telemigration.”

The passage about Amelia is an entertaining tale worthy of science fiction: “She works at the online and telephone help desk of Swedish bank SEB. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, as one might expect, she has a confident attitude and a captivating smile. Surprisingly, Amelia also works in London for the Borough of Enfield, and for UBS in Zurich. Ah, I forgot to say – Amelia can also learn a three-hundred-page manual in thirty seconds, speaks twenty languages and can handle thousands of calls simultaneously. Amelia is a white-collar robot.” In addition, the last few lines of the book also bear repeating: “It is essential that we realise that the pace of progress is not dictated by an abstract law of nature. We can control the speed of transformation, we have the tools to do so. It’s up to us to choose.”

The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work (Rivoluzione globotica. Globalizzazione, robotica e futuro del lavoro in Italy)
Richard Baldwin
Il Mulino, 2020

A tale of the “globotics revolution” has just been published in Italy: a snapshot of the consequences of new technologies, and how to live alongside them

Brother robot, sister machine. Not science fiction, but not exactly reality either. However, it remains an inescapable fact that digitalisation and automation – as well as artificial intelligence and robotics – are fast becoming fundamental elements of manufacturing, and indeed of our everyday lives. In the face of this, we need to equip ourselves culturally, so that we don’t get carried away with enthusiasm, or, on the flip side, overdramatise the situation. In regard to this, reading The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work, written by Richard Baldwin and recently published in Italy, could prove to be a useful exercise, precisely because it enables us to maintain the sense of balance needed when addressing the “robot issue”.

The author – who is professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute of Geneva – begins with the premise that automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are reshaping our lives at an overwhelming pace, and that we must seek to gain an understanding of the effects they create, especially with regard to the world of work and production.

In general terms, new technologies will soon enable new talent to spill over directly into the good, stable jobs that have served as the foundation for the prosperity enjoyed by the middle classes in wealthy countries. In other words, people in different parts of the world will soon be able to be “virtually” present in the same office. One of the results of this is the possibility that the lives of millions of skilled workers will be disrupted, in a much more profound way than with either industrialisation or globalisation.

Baldwin describes this process as a globotics revolution, or to echo the title of the book, an upheaval. In the face of such an upheaval, then, we must ensure that we are prepared, particularly from a cultural perspective. Baldwin then seeks to answer a number of questions, including what measures can be taken by individuals and by governments, how we can prevent the very foundations of prosperity from being shaken to their core, and what strategies we could use to adapt.

The path that lies ahead is far from smooth. However, the author of The Globotics Upheaval provides us with a potential – and general – answer to these questions: there are some essential skills that no machine can duplicate – skills like creativity and independent thinking.

The whole book consists of around 300 highly readable pages, beginning with an account of what has already happened before moving on to explore the characteristics of the “globotics upheaval”: namely, digitalisation, automation and “telemigration.”

The passage about Amelia is an entertaining tale worthy of science fiction: “She works at the online and telephone help desk of Swedish bank SEB. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, as one might expect, she has a confident attitude and a captivating smile. Surprisingly, Amelia also works in London for the Borough of Enfield, and for UBS in Zurich. Ah, I forgot to say – Amelia can also learn a three-hundred-page manual in thirty seconds, speaks twenty languages and can handle thousands of calls simultaneously. Amelia is a white-collar robot.” In addition, the last few lines of the book also bear repeating: “It is essential that we realise that the pace of progress is not dictated by an abstract law of nature. We can control the speed of transformation, we have the tools to do so. It’s up to us to choose.”

The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work (Rivoluzione globotica. Globalizzazione, robotica e futuro del lavoro in Italy)
Richard Baldwin
Il Mulino, 2020