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Varadkar warns that robots and artificial intelligence pose risk to people's jobs

The Taoiseach has said many professions could be affected, meaning people will need to upskill and retrain.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Dublin in November.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Dublin in November.
Image: Tom Honan/PA Wire/PA Images

LEO VARADKAR HAS warned that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) pose a risk to people’s jobs.

When asked about how this could impact workers in Ireland, the Taoiseach said most jobs are “vulnerable to digitalisation or automatisation”, adding: “The important thing now is that we think ahead.

“Almost anyone in employment at all levels could potentially lose their jobs as a result of AI, robotics or automation.

“Even some jobs done by doctors – looking at slides could well be done by machines much more accurately using machine-learning and AI so it’s jobs at absolutely all levels that can be affected by changes in technology.”

Varadkar then joked: “I’m not sure if we’ll have artificial intelligence to replace TDs and Senators or robot ministers, who knows. You get accused of being robotic sometimes.”

Drivers 

The Taoiseach noted that about 16% of men in the country drive for a living – including as taxi drivers, bus drivers, train drivers and delivery drivers. 

He said if this type of work is automated “that would change that whole world of going to work”.

Varadkar said rather than giving people a grant or financial assistance to go back to college or retrain if their jobs are taken, the government would “try to do something quite different which is in-workforce training, supporting and incentivising employers to make sure their staff are upskilled”.

“During the recession, a huge focus on skills and training was around training unemployed people to get jobs. We’re not going to need to do as much of that anymore and the focus will change to training and upskilling people who are already in jobs to do new things,” he said. 

With reporting by Christina Finn

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