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25 October 2017 | By John Bryson Community

Britain 2040: Post-Brexit, robotics and electric vehicles

Currently Brexit appears to be the single act that will have the biggest impact on the business environment of the future. Yet there are much larger changes on the horizon

In 1963, pre-eminent urban planner Sir Peter Hall speculated about London and the year 2000, where the chaos of inner city areas would make way for more planned developments, with urban motorways and elevated walkways. As he was to find out, forecasting futures often results in failure. But there are already some ‘knowns’ about Britain’s major cities in 2040, which businesses need to be mindful of in order to remain competitive.  

The march of the robots

The application of developments in robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) to economic and social activity will transform how we live and work. Such developments are making it possible to automate tasks that previously could only be undertaken by people, potentially increasing productivity.

In 2016, for example, Enfield Council began employing Amelia, the first public sector RAS assistant. Ipsoft developed Amelia to answer routine questions leaving the ‘more complex’ queries to humans. If Amelia cannot answer a question, she calls a human colleague and learns from them. Amelia can interpret emotion and react appropriately in terms of dialect and facial expressions. Amelia is also 60 per cent cheaper than using a human.

Currently, any assessment of RAS impacts is based on speculation and prediction. But while RAS inevitably will destroy some forms of employment, it will create new forms of work. These newly created jobs will have high barriers to entry based around capabilities in computer programming and mathematics or highly developed social skills. We need to address the potential skills deficit now if we are to avoid an overall increase in unemployment.

Driving change

Finally, the recent announcement to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040 will alter our cities enormously. And this will be more disruptive than Brexit and perhaps more expensive.

The costs and/or benefits of Brexit cannot be calculated with any degree of certainty and, likewise, no one appears to have costed the ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars.

For our country, this will change the automotive industry, will destroy traditional filling stations, alter the streetscape with the development of an electric vehicle changing point system and lead to a major investment in new infrastructure – from power stations to charging points.

The next 23 years will see our major cities transformed and this is without taking in to consideration any of the changes brought about by Brexit.

To tackle these dramatic changes, businesses must work together – and with universities. World class research will help to solve the problems facing our society and shared opinions and experiences will help frame industry’s response.

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