back to article Police drones, robo surgeons and chatbot civil servants. What could go wrong?

A think tank is calling for hundred-of-thousands of UK public sector jobs to be automated. Blighty should also take a look at using drones for policing, apparently. The report, Work in progress. Towards a leaner, smarter public-sector workforce [PDF], by centre-right wonkers Reform reckons up to 250,000 state employees in …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's too late...

    "El Reg wonders if think tank reports and research consultancies ought to be automated, too."

    From the sound of it, our Robot Overlords have already started. You don't honestly think a human could come up with this drivel, do you?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: It's too late...

      They probably all watched Elysium and thought it was cool. is never knowingly one to shy away from a dystopian future so the consultancy were only telling them what they wanted to hear.

  2. Alister Silver badge

    Chatbots could shave off around 90 per cent of the total number of Whitehall admin workers by 2030 - and save £2.6bn a year in the process - it claims. A further 90,000 NHS admin and 24,000 GP reception jobs could be automated in the same way, saving around £1.7bn.

    I wonder if that £1.7bn saving includes the welfare costs for those 114,000 NHS admin staff and GP receptionists, or the costs to retrain or employ them elsewhere. Or maybe we could just shoot them, as they will be an unnecessary drain on the economy.

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      Shoot them??

      Not until we've harvested their useful organs first! And why shoot them when we can use them to train the next generation robotic surgeon--Surgery with Highly Intelligent Technology? (figure out the acronym for that yourself)

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Truly a nightmrish vision

    and you thought AMFM was harmless.

    You fools.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Promote then automate?

    Nurses used to look after patients.

    Then there was a demand for an increase in status for nurses. Increased status means higher pay, so all graduate entry to justify the higher pay, but then you are writing reports and filling in patient data as befits your higher professional status. So then you hire cheap nursing auxiliaries and assistants to actually look after patients.

    Which group were you planning to replace with the new automated systems? Hint I bet it isn't the higher status all-graduate patient care management professionals doing the paperwork.

  5. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    30 per cent of nurses’ activities could be automated

    Those 30% being the useless form filling bullshit that has been foisted on the NHS by successive governments. Then they could actually get back to doing the job they trained to do and that real people want them to do - looking after patients.

  6. Haku

    "The UK should also take a look at using drones for policing, apparently."

    So this is the next stage of our dystopian future that was triggered by Brexit & Trump?

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: "The UK should also take a look at using drones for policing, apparently."

      Brexit & Trump sounds like a dodgy lawyers firm to me.

      1. Haku

        Re: "The UK should also take a look at using drones for policing, apparently."

        Or property managers...!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "GDS has done this to great effect, such as when a 16-person team designed GOV.UK in 12 weeks"

    Why do they need a 450m budget if they're so incredibly productive?

    1. Alt C

      Re: "GDS has done this to great effect, such as when a 16-person team designed GOV.UK in 12 weeks"

      The key word is 'designed' it took 16 people 12 weeks to pick a font that didn't work on all computers and restricted how gov departments could display their information.

      it took the rest of the civil service a bit longer to translate all the web pages into the new format, GDS did very little of that.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    somebody is actually being paid to suggest this crap..

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't the BOFH already do this?

    >brrr – brrr<

    Welcome to the Desktop and Laptop support desk. To ensure we are talking to a real person we require you to complete a simple IVR test. Press 2,4,6 and 8 to navigate or 5 for other options.


    You are in a twisting maze of little support options all alike.

  10. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Turing test

    I recently went through the nauseous procedure of reporting a telephone fault to BT, and ended up on a chat line, purportedly to a person "somewhere".

    But when you are on the line to someone with limited English working from a script, you wonder if in fact you are talking to a robot - the Turing test.

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      Re: Turing test

      Simple--tell them "I love you" and if there isn't a sudden skreach of "Does not compute!" and a boom from the other end of the line--person!

  11. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    I for one welcome our flying cop overlords!

    As long as they are armed, and we get to choose a name for them in a public poll.

    I vote for "Enforcement Drone 209" :)

    1. 's water music Silver badge

      Re: I for one welcome our flying cop overlords!

      As long as they are armed, and we get to choose a name for them in a public poll.

      The only way ED209 will get chosen is if our elitist political classes reject the clear winner: Shooty McShootface.

      I'd buy that for a $

    2. Morrie Wyatt
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I for one welcome our flying cop overlords!

      And I was watching James Cameron's Dark Angel the other day too.

  12. ChrisElvidge

    Chatbots could shave off around 90 per cent of the total number of Whitehall admin workers by 2030.

    Are politicians "admin workers"? Can we upgrade the Commons and the Lords too?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Are politicians "admin workers"? "

    You need the next generation to replace them, the chatshitbot

  14. Tim99 Silver badge
    Big Brother


    What are we going to do with all of these people? As automation increases, many private sector jobs will disappear too. You can't have everyone running custom skinny mochas micro businesses.

    During the 1970s-1980s "traditional men's skilled jobs" like turners and fitters were reduced by the introduction of CNC equipment. We were told that we would all have a lot more leisure, and many older men were "retired early". We thought that the changes meant a 2-3 day working week with lots of nice leisure time, but they actually meant "unemployment". We now have societies that have significant levels of un(der)employment, and a relatively small number of skilled people.

    I was involved, in a minor way, with some relevant bits of the State. It seems to me that we should not expect governments to help (unless they are forced) - They know that with a majority of the population spending long hours at work and commuting, there is less possibility of trouble from them. The unemployed can be contained by poor access to transport, an oppressive "benefits" scheme, and distracted by crap TV.

    So what are they going to do when 40% are out of productive work by 2025 (western intelligence projections)?

  15. Medical Cynic

    NHS IT and robots

    The NHS has wasted spectacular sums of money on clinical records systems, with pretty poor results.

    GOK what would be the outcome of any foray into AI. Robot surgery? Fine if very routine - but there's a lot of variance in the basic human design which can trap the unwary.

    There's a saying in the surgical world that There's no such thing as minor surgery - just minor surgeons

    As to AI in diagnostics, they may just match the standard of NHS 111 [ie piss-poor], but the complexity of diagnosis in unsorted fresh cases, with the added complexity of languages and dialects is huge. Not to mention the difficulties of clinical examination.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All this has been asked before...

    ...but what happens to the poor sods automated out of a job?

    Another load of people on the Dole, another burden on the few remaining tax-payers, more malcontents free to cause trouble whenever some butt-hole in a nice shiny think-tank somewhere "justifies" their funding by getting rid of everyone else's jobs... so maybe not all bad (I don't advocate civil disobedience but anyone who cannot see a real sh*tstorm lurching ever closer needs to get out their ivory tower and look at life nearer the ground)

    Just because the public sector has been able to get rid of loads of staff does not mean the staff were sitting around doing nothing - like the monetary budgets, the headcount is decreasing while the workload is increasing but that doesn't seem to occur to the people (and I use the term loosely) who control the purse-strings...

  17. Graham Marsden

    Chatbots could shave off around 90 per cent of Whitehall admin workers

    Yes, they could just replace them with Eliza and nobody would notice any reduction in service...

  18. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Judge Dredd already faced down this threat...

    ...about eighty years into the future, IIRC.

    And in a particularly nightmarish vision of the future, Reform said surgery is another area on the verge of being disrupted. “Autonomous robots, such as the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, have already outperformed human surgeons in routine procedures,” it said.

    Come back, Call-Me-Kenneth, all is forgiven!!

  19. RedCardinal

    *sigh* right-wing think tanks eh!

    Ask people what they want when they need something and the answer will invariably be - they want to speak with a real person. It's already difficult enough to do so...

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