The Future of Automation Starts Now, But Do Hungarian Politicians Know about It?

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There are a lot of new technologies around the world. Tech companies are testing their self-driving vehicles, Space X prepares for a Mars expedition in 2024, China built a surveillance system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to control their citizens, whereas a lot of robots work in different places to help make people’s life easier on a daily basis. Automation and robotics are not in the future anymore, they are already reality right now. Their future is bright and it is not far away.

A study by McKinsey & Company showed that 49% of the working hours in Hungary can be automated with the already existing technologies. This does not necessarily mean that these jobs will be lost forever, but they are going to be transformed.

According to the study, in the average scenario, 24% of jobs will be automated until 2030, and 60% of existing jobs will be affected by automation. This means almost 2.2 million employees will face new working conditions in the future only in Hungary.

Gábor Riba, a senior manager at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, claims that automation will be felt in three waves between now and the mid-2030s, and the first wave is already here. He added that just because businesses and people are not feeling the impacts right now, there is no excuse for not starting to plan for the future.

But if it is already happening now and people have to plan for the future, what and how do politicians think about this topic? There is a large number of ideas put forward by experts and CEOs (including basic income, a four-day working week, training programs, automation tax, among others), but what plans do politicians have to help the development of automation, and how are they seeking to prevent a social crisis?

Automation could have a big impact on the economy. On the other hand, millions of people are afraid of the future, because their working conditions will be changed forever. So how do politicians approach the topic?

We Can Build a New Tomorrow, Today

In 2018, general elections were held in Hungary. I examined the campaign agenda of the parties in detail and analyzed what parties said about the challenge of automation and what they thought about the future in general.

The examined parties were the governing Fidesz-KDNP (European People’s Party), Jobbik (Independent), the left-green alliance, MSZP-Párbeszéd (Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats), Demokratikus Koalíció (S&D), Lehet Más a Politika (Greens-European Free Alliance), and Momentum (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe).

During the campaign, the parties discussed different topics. Opposition parties’ campaigns were based on such issues as corruption and the governance of Fidesz, while Fidesz campaigned primarily on the issue of migration. Almost every party had clear campaign agendas during their campaign and some of the parties made promises regarding the challenge of automation and the new working conditions.

Analyzing Party Platforms

The governing Fidesz-KDNP did not have any written political agenda. They paid attention to the issue of migration and their campaign did not mention anything about automation. Their anti-immigrant vision of the future was only about whether Hungary will be an “immigrant state” or not.

The right-nationalist party, Jobbik, dealt chiefly with the “fourth industrial revolution”. In their 67-page-long agenda there was a whole chapter about the topic. They wanted to create a suitable environment for automation, and they wanted to support companies that were planning to use modern technologies.

Jobbik approached the issue from an economic perspective, they did not mention any social context, nor did they say anything about how the work environment is going to change and what answers do they have for that situation. The party only mentioned that almost 5 million jobs will be lost worldwide by 2020 because of automation and that’s why they want to be proactive and achieve the benefits it could have for the economy.

Jobbik has been a vocal supporter of the IT-sector: they wanted to introduce tax cuts for the sector, and their primary promise is improving the quality of IT education. In other chapters (for example security), they also referred to the “big data revolution” and its disadvantages. They also wanted to give everybody free access to broadband internet and develop an “e-election system”. Finally, in their platform they supported the use of smart devices in different places such as education.

Unlike the other parties, Jobbik mentioned e-sports in their agenda: They thought it important to discuss it, because the popularity of this new type of sports is growing year by year and we need to look at the advantages and disadvantages e-sports have.

The left-green alliance, MSZP-Párbeszéd, also paid attention to the “new wave of automation”. They hadseveral different documents within their political agenda. In their 24-page-long campaign document they only mentioned the topic, they did not have any policy for the challenge that automation will pose. They made promises only as regards digitization, in helping to create a suitable environment for automation and other new technologies.

The alliance was also a supporter of the IT-sector and different start-up companies: they promised to give tax cuts to these companies and they also claim that the capital of Hungary, Budapest, will be the center of automation in Central Europe. 

Just like other parties, they also stressed the importance of improving the quality of IT education and the education system in general. MSZP-Párbeszéd also wanted to create new transport networks that help the use of electric cars.

The leftist Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) did not deal with the topic of automation extensively. Although they stated that Hungary wants to join the “new industrial revolution”, they did not explicate their policy goals nor any other tasks regarding the issue.

Their economic program focused on the modernization of the economy, but they declared that first “we have to find those sectors in which the automatization is possible”. DK did not mention any social context nor the social impact of automation, but just like other parties, they would like to implement digitization as soon as possible in as many sectors as possible. They wanted to create “smart economy”, which is a sustainable, green economic policy rather than a people-oriented economy policy.

Similarly to Demokratikus Koalíció, the Hungarian green party, Lehet Más a Politika (LMP), also did not deal with the topic of automation extensively in their party platform. They mentioned “the information revolution” only once.

Instead, the party approached the topic from the perspective of environmental protection and development: LMP only wanted to use new technologies because of the environment and “green powers” and the introduction of smart devices in different sectors, such as healthcare and education

The party also dealt with the topic from the point of view of modern warfare, wanting to give the opportunity to have smart devices and internet connection to everyone.

Promoting self-driving vehicles from the perspective of their R&D (research and development) policy was also driven by the environmental aspect: LMP wanted to focus on modern, flexible networks and modern ways of storing energy, as this could reduce the cost of electricity consumption and would help to make the economy greener and more sustainable.

The liberal Momentum party’s monumental 363-page-long political agenda dealt with automation and modernization merely in several instances. According to their party platform, it is not the future, it is “the reality of the present”.

In their program, they mentioned how these new technologies could be used in the economy and be made accessible for society several times. It is the party’s belief that the primary use of these technologies is in the education, environment, and energy sectors.

In response to these observations, they would give more financial support for R&D (they discussed it in a whole separate chapter), and they would encourage or make digitization compulsory in as many sectors as possible. The party thinks the state has to help the companies to take advantages of digitization “at every front possible” and make taking part in digital economy easier for them.

Yet, Momentum did not mention the the social aspects of a technological change, only the importance of improving the quality of IT education. They also wanted to provide further training on ‘digital competences’ for the elderly people.

It becomes clear that Momentum perceived the technological change rather as an opportunity than a challenge. The party wanted to help people use digital devices to contribute to a knowledge-based society, which is able to adapt to any possible change, be it in the area of technology, economy, or society.

Conclusion

Almost every party dealt with the issue of automation and established some policies.

Jobbik’s vision for the future is the clearest: they have a strategy for the upcoming wave of automation, but they do not pay much attention to the social aspect of the issue, as the party does not discuss what plans do they have for elderly workers whose life is going to be changed after their job will be transformed and they do not have the ability to learn new skills in the new digital era.

Momentum also deals with the automation satisfactorily: they want to use the technologies in as many sectors as possible and help companies to play a greater role in the digital economy. As the party observes, the technology is already available, and it could serve as the catalyst of economic growth.

Almost every party approaches the topic from the pont of view of economy and environment. They also want to help the society develop their IT-skills. Still, none of them deals with the issue of elderly workers sufficiently; because of this, this segment of the society might just become “the lost generation of automation.”

The policies presented in party platforms are focused mostly on creating a suitable environment for modernization; meanwhile, they do not mention how these policies are to be affordable and what impact automation would have on the Hungarian society.

These shortcomings clearly show that although the proposed policies are not mature yet, Hungarian politicians have already recognized the importance of automation and the challenges related to it. They have thus taken the first steps to examine what effects will it cause and how can we prepare for it.

They finally recognized that the future starts now (with some parties that think it is already here), and the time has come to start a discussion about it.

Balazs Karoczkai
Republikon Institute