Stefano Zamagni | PASS President


Good morning, everybody, and welcome to this workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. A few people are still missing, they anticipated a few minutes of delay, but I think it is proper to start punctual.

Let me say just a few words as a matter of introduction and then, after my brief presentation, Gustavo Beliz from Buenos Aires will add his own considerations to the workshop whose preparation was started a year ago. In fact, I have to acknowledge that the initial idea came from Gustavo Beliz, so let us say we are grateful to you for having urged us to devote attention to this issue.

A few considerations: there is, as we know today, widespread concern that the so-called convergent technologies might destroy a large number of jobs and cause technological unemployment. Robots are now capable of replacing a host of routine tasks performed within the firm. Jobs most at risk include blue-collar jobs and routine occupations, while the groups of employees who are most at risk of wage decline are low-skilled males. But the empirical literature has produced mixed results in recent times, and the OECD has also concluded that the effects of robots on employment may be significantly smaller than what others have projected. In fact, in addition to potential employment effects, we should also consider the effects of robotics on labour productivity and also on total factor productivity and thus economic growth. But the potential effects of robots on national economies go further than employment and productivity facts. In this regard there is a sense of reductionism in dealing with this matter, because increased robot use, fuelled by the increased dexterity of machines, can be expected to increasingly impact also global value chains.

Significant investments in robotics will alter relative factor endowments and thus factor costs in countries, and this may change the location of production. Robotics may limit the offshoring to emerging economies, and promote the re-shoring of activities back to rich countries. Increased education will overall decrease the importance of labour costs, hence making the relocation of productive activities in rich countries again more attractive and, of course, it is not difficult to forecast an implication: the gap between developed and in-transition countries might increase, so it's not only the impact on labour per se but also on the distances among countries all over the world. As everybody knows, an enormous amount of literature has emerged over the last few years in the context of the future of work problems. Academics, think-tanks and policy makers have fuelled rich discussions about how the future of work might look and how we can shape it. Indeed, labour markets are likely to undergo major transformation in the next years, and transformation is the keyword as we are always reminded by Pope Francis. Yet, despite the intensity of the debate no commonly accepted vision on the future of work has yet emerged, neither is there an agreement as to the key drivers that will influence future jobs and wages. At this point, most attention is on the impact on the labour market. However, concurrent to these facts, there are a set of broader socio-economic, geopolitical and demographic drivers of change that might have even more significant and larger lasting influences on the world of work. That is the reason why a place like this one, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, in my opinion is the proper place to tackle from different angles a problem which will concern us in these two days: technology, climate change, globalisation and demography are mega trends within the context of the world of work and projected to play a defining role in the future years.

To conclude, what we are experiencing today bares striking similarities in size and implication to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. The discoveries of Copernicus and then Galileo challenged our whole understanding of the world around us and forced us, as humans, to rethink our place within it. Descartes crystallised this age of reason in one phrase, “I think, therefore I am”. Descartes’ point was that it was our ability to think that most distinguished humans from all other animals. Now, the fourth industrial revolution forces us to answer a most profound question: what does it mean to be human in the age of artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc? If machines can compete with people in thinking, what makes us humans unique? The answer in my opinion is the one thing machines will never have, namely a heart. Humans can love, have compassion and can dream. Humans can build a relationship of trust. So the phrase is, “I care, therefore I am. I hope, therefore I am”.

I have reasons to believe that these two days of work will provide us with certain specific inputs to implement a vision of this type.

Thank you very much for your attention.