Sir Keir Starmer today warned of ‘staggering’ job losses from an Artificial Intelligence revolution set to affect the world in the ‘next 12 or 18 months’.
The Labour leader acknowledged ‘many’ workers would be replaced in their current roles by technology as he called for a ‘much more informed discussion’ about AI’s impact on employment.
Sir Keir shied away from supporting widespread payouts for Britons – through a Universal Basic Income – as AI takes over work and said there should instead be an effort to ‘retrain and reskill the workforce into other areas’.
He also insisted AI would be ‘a real gamechanger for the country’ and outlined how the technology could be used to increase cancer detection rates or even drive buses.
Speaking at London Tech Week, the Labour leader claimed Britain was ‘slightly behind the curve’ on the development of AI despite recent efforts by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
‘The Government is right to focus on AI but there’s a long way to go in terms of what we do with it,’ Sir Keir said.
‘On regulation we’re just beginning to have the discussion that’s needed both here and internationally.
‘And a much more informed discussion about jobs, I think, is vitally, vitally important.
‘Otherwise we will risk not addressing one of the key questions, which is who benefits from this?
‘Is it just those that always benefit from advances in technology? Or is it everybody that we take with us? And it’s got to be the second of those.’
Sir Keir was asked how many jobs he feared could be lost to AI in Britain, with the UK economy heavily dependent on the financial and creative services sector.
‘I don’t know the number, is the honest answer, I’m not sure anybody really does,’ the Labour leader replied.
‘But the percentages that have been put out there are quite staggering.
‘And you can see why because AI is now moving so fast, it is capable of doing things like drafting contracts, writing documents, assessing financial material, helping with driving buses, radiologist scanning.
‘So it is obvious it will have an impact – the question is how do we harness that good?’
A recent report by investment bank Goldman Sachs suggested AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs.
It also noted that almost half of tasks in administrative and legal professions could be automated in the future using AI.
Sir Keir vowed, if he becomes PM, his Labour government would ‘partner with business’ to embrace changes in technology.