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The effects of artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology will bring about a “civilisation change that we haven’t seen for hundreds of years” and will have “profound implications” for politics, society and the shape of our cities, said Dr Simon Longstaff AO.

“Talk to the CEOs of major banks and they will tell you in 10 years’ time there will be 50 per cent less employees working in banking than there is today,” the executive director of The Ethics Centre said.

Real estate agencies, accounting and law firms are factoring in a 40 per cent decline, Longstaff added. Construction, mining and medicine will also be taken over by robots.

“In Australia, we have virtually no history of effectively managing a transition like this that is either just or orderly,” Longstaff said.

Kate Meyrick, chief executive and managing director of The Hornery Institute didn’t share Longstaff’s “dystopian view” but she agreed the shape of our cities would change.

While we can’t predict the future, we do know that humans have “analogue hearts, even if our minds are increasingly digital”. The public realm will become even more important than it is now, she said.

“As we progress from manufacturing and service-oriented economy to one that is knowledge and ideas based, the quality of the places we create becomes incredibly important,” she added.

Longstaff and Meyrick also discussed the “unravelling of institutional trust” in banks, governments, politicians, the media, churches – even cricket.

The community is looking at business in general and asking: “who are these people?” Longstaff said. He urged the audience to go back into their businesses and tackle the tough questions; to examine practices that are explained away with “that’s the way it is always done”.

“Ethical leaders are not people who wear their virtue on their sleeve. Ethical leaders are those that ask questions of day-to-day practice, with a view to calibrating them back to core values, purpose and principles,” Longstaff said.

Meyrick said her one piece of advice was to “always speak up”.

“If you are listening to a conversation and your heart says something is not right, then it is beholden on you as an individual to stand up and be counted.”

Learn more about Simon Longstaff and Kate Meyrick’s views on ethical leadership in the AI era in our story in Property Australia.


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