The transformational changes facing Birmingham by 2040

Prof John Bryson

By John Bryson, Professor of Enterprise and Competitiveness at the University of Birmingham’s City-Region Economic Development Institute

Forecasting futures often results in failure. However, there are some ‘knowns’ about Birmingham in 2040.

Currently, Brexit appears to be the single act that will have the biggest impact on the business environment. But there are much larger things on the horizon that we need to be mindful of.

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

Whilst RAS inevitably will destroy some forms of employment, it will create new forms of work. The newly-created jobs will have high barriers to entry based around capabilities in computer programming and mathematics or highly developed social skills.

This may lead to an overall increase in unemployment if we do not address the potential skill deficit now.

Currently, any assessment of RAS impacts is based on speculation and prediction. But, there is no question that RAS will revolutionise the world of work.

In 2016, Enfield Council began employing Amelia, the first public sector RAS assistant. Amelia was developed by Ipsoft 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% cheaper than using a human.

Finally, the recent announcement to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040 will alter Birmingham enormously.

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 Birmingham, 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.