Is any country ready for an automated world?

Automation, on a mass scale and across practically all industries, is coming. And fast. Businesses are racing to acquire the necessary technology to avoid losing out to the competition. But what about governments? What are they doing to make sure that their citizens are not left behind? The answer, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s  Automation Readiness Index, is not enough.

No-one can say for sure what effect mass automation will have on society (predictions range from a dystopian world where every whim of the 0.01% is catered for by the rest of us, to an egalitarian paradise, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs), but there is a consensus that nothing will be the same once the technology is widely adopted. The Index attempts to predict which countries will make the most of the automated future, based on current policies. The impressively researched rankings are based on 52 indicators, grouped into 3 categories; innovation environment, education policies and labour policies. The findings demonstrate that countries with strong institutions came out on top (South Korea, Germany and Singapore rank highest), whereas developing economies rank lowest (Mexico, Vietnam, Indonesia). This may be not be a surprise, but I was struck by the fears expressed by the contributors to the study of an “alarming” lack of preparedness amongst all countries.

Last year, I began the development of the Index, on behalf of my client ABB, and led the project through to publication in April 2018. The impetus for launching the study was  a growing backdrop of negative and fearful stories about the various forms of automation (principally AI and robotics). It was felt that commissioning the Economist Intelligence Unit to produce  a ranking, with a credible methodology, would kickstart an informed discussion about the role of government and the urgent need for the public and private sector to get to grips with the challenges inherent in a rapidly changing technological landscape.

Since the launch, at Hannover Messe in Germany and Collision in the US, it has been encouraging to see so many media outlets picking up on this story, including heavyweights such as the Washington Post, NPR’s Marketplace and London’s Evening Standard, many of them moving the story on, focusing more on the potential solutions and positive outcomes of an increasingly automated world.

The 2018 Automation Readiness Index is the first of its kind, and currently a pilot project, but if it becomes an annual publication it promises to make a useful contribution to the growing debates surrounding the future of work & society; it will be fascinating to see how government policies evolve – and countries adapt – in response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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