Prepping Wales for the next Industrial Revolution

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Economy & Infrastructure Committee
Industry 4.0 (pdf)
Published: 17th August 2018

“The growing body of studies and reports concerning automation and AI give a range of outcomes. It is clear that failure to prepare will be preparing to fail in this brave new world.

 

We hope this report generates discussion – not just in the corridors of power, but among a wide range of businesses, across sectors and out in the streets of Wales.”

 

– Committee Chair, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery)

See also: How will automation hit Wales? (State of Wales); What Lee Waters said about the Rise of the Robots

1. Wales needs to prepare for big changes to the workforce as early as 2030

Automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data have been presented as threats to the economy by replacing humans with algorithms and machines, but there are definite opportunities as long as (as many witnesses argued) the social impact is properly taken into account.

While the Fourth Industrial Revolution was said to potentially bring about mass job losses, decisions will be made by companies, not governments. Up to 39% of jobs are estimated to be at risk from automation, with parts of Wales with a significant manufacturing base particularly vulnerable.

If new technologies are properly applied it’s just as likely that skilled workers will simply be re-assigned to oversee the work of machines instead of being directly replaced. The manufacturing process of the Raspberry Pi at Pencoed was cited by Prof. Calvin Jones as an example of “augmented working”.

The Economy Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), described some of the figures regarding job losses as “alarmist” and said it failed to recognise that there would be new jobs and it would significantly improve productivity.

2. Welsh universities should do more to retain links to experts in various fields

Assistant director of the CBI in Wales, Leighton Jenkins, told the Committee that Wales should recognise that it already has assets in place and should make the most of them – particularly AI and other experts either working at Welsh universities or alumni of Welsh universities now working overseas.

Prof. Calvin Jones called for the creation of a “Cyber Wales” network as there are already a number of smaller companies working in fields such as cybersecurity.

3. Wales should act as a testbed for pioneering farming and autonomous vehicle technology

Witnesses said that Wales’ rural roads would provide the perfect environment to put autonomous vehicles through rigorous testing and Prof. Calvin Jones suggested that Wales could develop future-proofed rural communities with testing facilities similar to those found in and around Silicon Valley and Toronto. Concerns were, nevertheless, raised about cybersecurity, insurance and liability in an accident.

Another area of explanation is precision agriculture – using big data and new machinery to improve the efficiency and economic sustainability of farms. Some techniques, such as the precision application of weedkillers can reduce the use of herbicides by “up to 99.9%”. Some of the barriers include poor rural broadband connections and upfront costs.

Some other applications of emerging technologies identified during the inquiry include the use of AI and big data in healthcare (chatbots and medicines monitoring). A Welsh Government official told the Committee that Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer both consider Wales “one of the best places in the world to carry out research and development” in health due to the open attitude of the Welsh NHS to new technologies.

4. The Welsh Government should review its support for lifelong learning and up-skilling

It was said that 65% of today’s primary school children will be working in roles that presently don’t exist.

With the changing nature of work – which could lead to people having to work longer before retirement – there was a need to turnaround a lack of engagement amongst older people with education and training. This would no doubt come at a huge cost, but some witnesses believed the costs would eventually be greater if we did nothing.

There was some hope that the new National Curriculum will produce more independent, creative learners who will be adaptable to the new realities of the 21st Century. There was a note of caution, however,  to avoid teaching children concepts like coding in a way that could prove obsolete in a few years.

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