In the current digital age, academia, legislators and public opinion are questioning themselves – some with optimism, some with distrust, some with catastrophism – about the consequences of technological progress on the world of work.
It is certain that technological innovation always destroys and creates, but now the digital revolution innovates and transforms the way of working – the how, the when, the how much, the where – more deeply and quickly than what had happened in the past.
The Industrial Revolution 4.0, characterized by automation, robotics, AI data annotation, and sophisticated algorithms has made the “machine” more and more intelligent, and, therefore, it is necessary to ask ourselves how the business context, the organization of work and, as far as we are concerned here, the structure of the relationship between employer and worker.
In a general perspective, faced with the unstoppable rise of the algorithmic world, that of law seems to struggle to update or revisit its consolidated legal categories; however, in the face of new phenomena that spread very quickly and appear ungovernable, it is necessary to bring them back into the legal framework, without thereby wanting to slow down innovation and slow down technological development.
Also with particular reference to the field of work, the consequent problems relating to human dignity, autonomy and responsibility, justice, all dependent on either the replacement of man with the machine or man-machine interaction, were raised.
In the most recent period, the health emergency has accelerated the automation process, spreading the possibility of recourse – indeed the need to prevent or limit the spread of the coronavirus infection – to forms of remote work or through the use of digital platforms, which are destined to impose themselves definitively in the future new normal, since – when the storm is over – there will probably be no turning back.
For this reason, given the growing diffusion, in the production process, of automation and artificial intelligence, the labor law doctrine is deepening its different fields of application and implications, side effects, as well as solutions, and there are countless studies, surveys, forecasts, data contained in international and local documents, which confirm the need for an interdisciplinary approach and an overview.
And so some forecasts draw doomsday and catastrophic scenarios on lost jobs, arousing the fear of mass technological unemployment, since the strongest fear is that, in the near future, the right person for a certain job could be a machine.
Not only workers (and then employees who perform mechanical, routine, predictable and repetitive tasks) but intellectual and professional workers risk losing their jobs, according to a tendency towards the polarization of the labor market, in the sense that the job offer will be concentrated in two extreme groups (low-wage, low-skilled and high-skilled) with a reduction in intermediate jobs: it is said that only one-third of current workers are relatively safe from the risk of being replaced; for everyone else, unemployment and inequalities in the labor market will grow, as smart machines are a new “virtual” workforce that is more efficient, faster, more precise and (sometimes) cheaper.
Moreover, the current economic collapse is having and will have even more tomorrow, dramatic overall repercussions on employment, to which is added the impetuousness of technological progress with its effects on work. The inevitable consequence (for some) is the destruction of jobs due to this plurality of factors.
Indeed, technological progress, as a cyclical phenomenon, has always replaced old works with new and better ones but today many tragic prophecies are based on the speed – much greater than in the past – of changes (both qualitative and quantitative), which make it difficult to reabsorb in a short time the increase in technological unemployment, with a consequent longer duration of the transition, in the face of a demand for work that will be new and very different.