Tech doesn't have to mean a dystopia - why it is time to hug an android

Much has been written about the impact of technological change and the dystopian future we could all face as a result of the rise of the robots. It can sometimes feel like we are preparing for a world in which artificial intelligence, algorithms and automation – rather than human endeavour and hard work – will shape every aspect of our society and our economy.

That sounds like a frightening prospect. But it needn’t be. The word robot derives from the Czech Robota, or forced Labour. If 21st century machines labour on our behalf, carrying out the heavy lifting and routine tasks of the future, then we could be free to focus on activities that generate greater economic benefits for a greater number of people.

That is liberating. Rather than causing mass unemployment, new technology could help to solve the trio of economic problems that are currently holding Britain back – low growth, low wages and poor productivity.

That’s one of the findings of the new report published today  by the independent Future of Work Commission, which I set up and co-chaired alongside Helen Mountfield QC.

The commission is made up of experts from academia, industry and the union movement. It spent a year asking what the future of work in Britain will look like in the context of the technological revolution.

Our report found that the most apocalyptic predictions about the impact automation will have on jobs are far too pessimistic. We believe automation and artificial intelligence can, with the right policy framework around it, create as many jobs as it destroys.

But our report also contains some stark warnings about the future too. Because we aren’t doing enough to exploit the opportunities created by this new world of work. Our chronic inability as a country to spend enough money on research and development is still holding us back.

One of our findings is that Britain currently has too few robots, not too many. We’ve been slower to adopt new technologies than other wealthy countries and the problem is getting worse not better. The number of industrial robots installed in Britain in 2015 was down 21 per cent on 2014 levels. The number of robots per 10,000 employees is one of the lowest in the OECD.

That is why our report calls for 3.5 per cent of GDP to be spent on R&D. That will bring us in line with other wealthy countries like Germany and Japan and help us become a leader in this new technological revolution in the same way we led the world during the industrial revolution.

To make that happen, we need to change our tax system so that companies that invest in technology are rewarded and provide them with financial incentives to do so. We also need to fast-track the skills this new technological revolution will require as it picks up pace. That means teaching a curriculum built around creative thinking and developing digital skills, with a specific focus on AI, so British children finish school equipped to pursue the jobs of the future.

I’ve always been excited by technology and the opportunities it creates. I’m what they call an early adopter. That’s one of the reasons I set up this commission. I wanted to understand how technological changes will change the world of work and I thought it was important to try and establish whether the stark warnings about automation were grounded in fact.

In recent years, we’ve read stark warnings that 11 million British jobs will be lost – in blue collar jobs as well as white-collar professions. We’ve heard that algorithms and artificial intelligence would make doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers obsolete.

But one of the main findings of our report if that there is much to be optimistic about if we harness the progressive power of the technological revolution.

If we make the right public policy decisions about investment, education and re-training, automation and AI can create good, well-paid and fulfilling jobs.

In short, we shouldn’t fear the robots. A former prime minister once famously instructed people to: “Hug a hoodie”. Perhaps we should also learn to embrace an android.

Ken Clarke’s revelations show Murdoch’s influence still needs investigating

Ken Clarke has suggested that David Cameron did "some sort of deal" to win the support of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in the run-up to the 2010 election. According to Clarke, in his evidence to the Competition and Markets Authority, when – at Cameron’s instigation – he held a meeting as justice secretary with Rebekah Brooks, she “described herself as running the government now in partnership with David Cameron”.

Clarke says that she tried to use this influence to get him to introduce prison ships. She failed in that particular lobbying effort – which turned out to be good news for some of her subsequently imprisoned former colleagues. But the Murdochs were interested in more than just prisons policy – they always have been.

Murdoch got his man – former News of the World editor Andy Coulson – into the heart of the Conservative operation, first as the Conservative party’s head of communications, and later at Downing Street. “That was part of the deal I assume,” says Clarke. Cameron was prepared to believe Coulson's denials that he had any involvement in the phone-hacking – a credulity that he later came to regret.

When it all came crashing down in 2011, with the phone-hacking scandal, the closure of the News of the World, and the – temporary, as it turned out – abandonment of the Murdochs’ bid to take over Sky, it looked as if the cosy deal between the Murdochs and the Conservative party might have to end. We learned about a corporate culture within the Murdoch empire – of documents deleted, of ethical standards conveniently suspended, of blind eyes turned to criminality – that nobody could defend. Suddenly, association with Rupert Murdoch was a political liability.

I’ve watched with fascination over the last few years as the Murdochs have tried to claw themselves back into the privileged role they so deservedly lost. Their papers backed the Tories (and, interestingly, the SNP) in the 2015 election, with some success. But this year has shown their powers fading. They threw everything they could at Labour, and at Jeremy Corbyn, in the general election – and it didn’t work.

On election day in June, the Sun’s front page screamed: "Don't chuck Britain in the Cor-bin".  Millions of voters ignored it – and deprived Theresa May of the majority she’d taken for granted. For once, and perhaps, for ever from now on, it wasn’t the Sun wot won it.

Since then I’ve praised Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, for doing the right thing and referring 21st Century Fox's bid to take over Sky to the Competition and Markets Authority – a decision I don’t believe the Murdochs expected for one moment. Maybe she – like Corbyn – feels liberated by the election result. If the Murdoch papers can’t deliver on their side of the bargain for the Tories, why should she bend over backwards to do what they want, instead of following due process?

But Theresa May still faces questions about her relationship with Rupert Murdoch. We still don’t know what was discussed at her private meeting with her in New York in September 2016. And when I wrote to her in June, following a tip-off, to ask her if it was true that Murdoch had asked her to reappoint Michael Gove to the cabinet, I was surprised to receive a reply that refused to deny the allegation. It would, after all, have been so easy to deny it.

The Murdochs are still seeking to expand their empire, even as new revelations about corporate behaviour pile up. Their flagship TV station, Fox News, has been hit by a rolling sexual harassment scandal – in which we now know allegations were covered up, accusers paid off and alleged perpetrators handed new multimillion-dollar contracts, despite the company’s knowledge of serious sexual misconduct claims. I met some former Fox News employees in parliament this week and was shocked at the stories they told me.

In just the last few months here in the UK, Murdoch companies have paid out damages to a former army intelligence officer whose computer was hacked by private detectives working for the News of the World, and settled 17 cases of phone hacking and illegally obtaining personal information. And more cases are outstanding. The very fact that this legal process is lumbering on shows that the Murdoch empire is still unwilling to face up to what happened inside its newspapers: every new revelation has to be dragged from them.

The scandal hasn’t ended, as Clarke’s testimony shows. That’s why I still believe we need to see part two of the Leveson inquiry – promised in 2011 by all political parties – to look into the extent of unlawful and improper conduct within News Group and other media organisations. I hope the Conservative party can show that it’s no longer in the business of doing deals with the Murdochs, and get on with it.

The Tories fail to crackdown on FOBTs

The government has today announced yet another review into gambling and Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. My view is that it would have been better to announce a crackdown on FOBTs today.

FOBTs cause untold misery. They enable people to gamble £100 every 20 seconds. I’ve heard many stories about addicts spending all their cash on these machines and then taking out loans they can’t afford to carry on playing – and losing that money too.

Labour isn’t opposed to gambling. But we do have a duty to call out exploitative practices. That’s why we said we’d impose a £2 maximum stake for FOBTs in our manifesto. The Government could have followed suit. Instead, it is holding a 12 week consultation seeking views on whether the maximum bet should be cut to £2 or £50 or somewhere in between.

You can make you views known by responding to the DCMS consultation HERE.

I encourage you to do so. In addition, if you have any evidence to support your position then send this to

The consultation deadline is 23 January 2018.

There are 34,000 FOBTs in Britain and bookies can have up to 4 machines in each shop. Each machine takes an average of £53,000 a year and the amount British gamblers lose on FOBTs has risen from £1bn in 2009 to £1.8bn in 2016 – an increase of 73%. The Gambling Commission estimates that one in every nine people who use them end up addicted. The gambling industry says that limiting their profitability will lead to job losses. My view is that some of our poorest communities already pay too high a price for their popularity. They cause poverty, debt and misery. Families can be torn apart.

The total cost to the taxpayer of problem gambling, including mental health services, policing and homelessness, could be £1.2bn a year.

FOBTs aren’t the only problem but they are one of the most visible and arguably the most destructive form of gambling. We need new legislation to regulate a gambling industry that has changed beyond all recognition since the last Gambling Act in 2005.

Online gaming has become huge business. Bookies advertise on football shirts. The Gambling Commission has found that 450,000 children are gambling in England and Wales each week.

Most tellingly of all, the total amount gambling companies win from punters in the UK was a record £13.8bn last year, up from £8.36bn in 2008/09.

The Government needs to act to get a grip on Britain’s hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. Instead of doing that they have let the industry off the hook. That’s why bookies’ shares rose this morning. Talking is not enough. We need action.

Read more about FOBTs here Bookies Are The Only Winners Of The Government's Gambling Review

Vital That Facebook Comes Clean About Russian Propaganda

The Electoral Commission has today announced it is in talks with Facebook about whether Russian-funded propaganda adverts broke electoral rules during the EU referendum.

In a statement, the Commission said: "Any receipt of impermissible donations by registered campaigners or political parties campaigning at the EU referendum, either from the UK or overseas, would be a serious breach of the law, and anyone who believes they have evidence of this should provide it to the Commission and the police."
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Defending Investigative Journalism in Malta

On 16 October, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb. We don't know who killed her, but we do know that she devoted her life to exposing corruption - including vital work on the Panama Papers scandal.

Her killing is an attack not just on her, but on journalistic freedom, on freedom of speech and on democracy.

I wrote to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last week to express my deep concern and to ask the Government to urge Malta to make sure Ms Caruana Galizia's death is properly investigated. I'm still waiting for a reply.


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Beware of Cheap Knock-offs - Theresa May's conference speech

It can be tempting to copy someone else's ideas and pass them off as your own. Theresa May seems to have done just that for her speech to Conservative Party Conference today, with a line from American TV drama The West Wing. It looks like she, or one of her speechwriters, is an Aaron Sorkin fan. Compare the (fictional) President Jed Bartlet with the (still real, just about) Prime Minister Theresa May. 

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Tom Watson: Speech to Labour Party Annual Conference 2017

My speech to Labour Party Annual Conference, Brighton 2017

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It's about time gambling addiction was taken seriously

Some gambling companies, driven by greed, are deliberately targeting our poorest communities even as hundreds of thousands of lives are ruined by addiction. 

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Tom Watson: Speech to Musician's Union Conference

Hello everyone, good afternoon. It is a genuine pleasure to be with you today. And it’s a particular pleasure because as a kid I wanted to be a professional musician. I played a brief starring role as a member of the third violins in the Sladen Middle school orchestra.

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12 Tory promises from 2015 that Theresa May has dropped in 2017

In 2015, the Tories stood on a manifesto full of promises they couldn't deliver. Now, just two years later, they've called another election and published a new manifesto. And there are a few things missing. 

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