Naomi Climer promotes the virtues of human centred technology at Robert Oakeshott Lecture 2020

The 160+ attendees of the 8th annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture, titled The Rise of the Robots: What Role for Employee Ownership in the 2030 Economy?”,  heard Naomi Climer, Co-Chair of the Institute for the Future of Work, promoting the potential benefits of technological developments that put people, not profits at the centre.

In her lecture; Naomi, an engineer and leader who is a non-executive director on the Boards of a number of quoted companies and charities, spoke to the audience about how the 4th Industrial Revolution, dubbed “The Digital Revolution” has led to dramatic changes in the nature of work for people across the world, and how emerging technologies like automation and artificial intelligence would lead to even greater changes.

The content of the lecture looked at the potential opportunities provided by these new technologies; opportunities for smaller, innovative, more ethical companies to outmanoeuvre the traditional businesses currently dominating the market. While these new technologies provide enormous potential benefits, Naomi warned that they are not without risks and drawbacks, stating that:

“All the technology trends I’ve described have the potential to be a great leveller – it’s possible to give everyone access to all of human knowledge, anyone with an internet connection can find work. People with disabilities can have all sorts of technology to assist them to engage fully within society and work. But – despite the levelling opportunity – the threat right now is that it’s investors, innovators and shareholders who are mostly benefitting from this tech. On the whole, the tech owners are getting richer and only the very highly skilled workers are enjoying the benefits.”

Naomi emphasised the importance of putting people at the heart of new technological adoptions, something that she felt employee owned businesses are particularly suited to do, saying that:

“I would like to see the employee ownership sector as an exemplar for managing technological changes in a way that puts people first. I think this is already in your DNA”

As part of this effort to put people at the heart of technological change, she asked for businesses to sign up to the Institute for the Future of Works “Good Work Charter” which outlines 10 key conditions that would ensure that the changes brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolution would not lead to a reduction in the quality of work available, and ensure that the economic prosperity generated by new technology is not restricted to a small number of beneficiaries.

You can find out more about the 2020 Robert Oakeshott Lecture, as well as watch a video of Naomi’s keynote address on the Robert Oakeshott webpage.