“The AI Economy: Work, wealth, and welfare in the robot age”

Held on Tuesday, September 10th, at Furniture Makers’ Hall


  • Roger Bootle (Capital Economics)

  • Shafi Ahmed (Medical Realities)

  • Charlotte Jee (MIT Technology Review)

  • Rob McCargow (PwC)

  • Leon Emirali (Algo Agency)



Roger Bootle is an economist – and a very good one. He was one of the first serious economists to suggest, as early as 1996, that the developed world was entering a prolonged period of low inflation and even lower interest rates. He is not a physicist or a computer scientist. But his ability to spot the Next Big Thing means that he can bring a sceptical economist’s training to the impact that qualitative changes in computing power can have on the future of work, on the structure of society and on the role of government.

That’s what he is trying to do in his latest book – apply an economist’s skill-set to a field that has been dominated by technologists.

I have one or two hesitations about his argument: In particular, I do wish he would define what he means by AI and “robots” more clearly (I am inclined to agree with a quote he attributes to Noam Chomsky that AlphaGo beating a Korean master is not so much AI as a “forklift truck winning a weightlifting contest”). But it is a powerful – and surprisingly optimistic – book, making a strong case that the Age of Robots is less a radical step-change than a continuation of incremental changes going back to the Industrial Revolution. Yes, those at the bottom of the income distribution may suffer – and there may be implications for inequality, which means a role for government. There will also probably be more leisure - but an expanded leisure sector also means more jobs.

The point is that this is a book that approaches a (fairly) familiar problem from an unfamiliar direction – and that makes one think. I am, therefore, delighted that Roger – the founder and chairman of Capital Economics, a winner of the Wolfson Prize in Economics and a former chief economist at HSBC – has agreed to come and talk about his book, his conclusions, and what prompted him to tackle such a tricky issue. There will be copies of the book available for purchase on the day.

There will also be a couple of respondents to keep him on his toes:

  • Shafi Ahmed is a consultant colorectal surgeon at Barts, a faculty member at Harvard Med School and clinical medical officer at Medical Realities – where he driving innovation in the field of medico-surgical robotics. He is also a seasoned TEDx performer and all-world media star.

  • Charlotte Jee is a reporter at MIT Technology Review, as well as being the founder of Jeneo, a venture aimed at increasing diversity in the tech sector. Her earlier roles include three years as editor of Techworld and a couple of years as senior reporter at Computerworld.

  • Rob McCargow is Director of Artificial Intelligence at PwC UK, covering the impact of automation on the workforce and society. He is an advisory board member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI and an adviser to the IEEE Global Initiative on the Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems

  • Leon Emirali is the MD at Algo Agency, a digital marketing and communications agency which he set up earlier this year having sold his stake in an earlier award-winning media agency.

Whether or not you share Roger’s (qualified) optimism about our tech future, this is an issue that we cannot duck. It is going to shape all our lives – up to (and beyond) the so-called “Singularity” (when machines really may take over). So, do come along – to listen, to challenge, and (perhaps) to buy the book. Just let us know first, by emailing alex@csfi.org or by calling the Centre on 0207 621 1056. As usual, wine and sandwiches will be provided.

Many thanks

Andrew Hilton