The Statesman Calcutta

04th March 2018

Raja Murthy*


A wake Isaac Gomesup call for all of us regarding the rapid changes that are likely to take place in two decades.  Either we adapt to survive and excel or we stay put to become redundant or obsolete. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a  left-wing thinktank based in London in the UK, job automation will hurt women first, but will ultimately hurt men more. “Automation risks increasing gender and race inequality,” says IPPR, noting that women and some minority groups are more likely to work in low-skill, “automatable” occupations. “The impact on inequality will depend on the skill-level of new jobs created and individuals’ ability to access opportunities.” What would be very interesting and at the same time a matter of concern, is will automation affect the agricultural sector, particularly countries like India where 75% is rural economy which is dependent on agriculture and a good monsoon. Will AI (artificial intelligence) be used in agriculture to till the land, harvesting and allied activities? However, the findings of the study may not be widely applicable to India as it may be in other parts of the world. At the same time, India may not be totally immune to the impact of increased automation or AI. A mind-boggling article in the Statesman, Calcutta.  Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.


A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 200,000 jobs in 29 countries said evolving technology like automation and robotics could deliver good and bad news: predicted changes adding $US 15 trillion to global GDP, but also causing about 44 per cent of workers to lose their jobs within two decades.

India was not included in the PwC Study released in February (probably due to the juicy reputation its accountants have in the country) with Japan, South Korea and Singapore being the only major Asian economies featured.  PwC researchers estimated the effect of three waves of automation in the next three decades.

But in an increasingly inter-connected world, big shake-ups in one region will obviously have planetary ripple effects – particularly India that is expected to be among the world’s leading economies by year 2050.

The PwC report “How automation will impact jobs” is the latest measurement of how life is changing since the Industrial Revolution, the computer and the internet revolution.

The unsettling upheavals, pain and progress of change is similar across centuries: corporate and media organisations might shudder at memories of ugly trade union resistance to computerisation of the 1990s – fears of machines replacing humans, and the jobless left running around in the streets.  And then internet-enabled computing machines and humans got along fine, just as the Industrial Revolution changed work for agricultural workers, not eliminating workers. Not unemployment but reemployment will be the focus in the coming decades.

The three phases of automation in the next three decades, according to PwC study, start with near-terms changes like algorithms replacing workers in financial and investment sectors.  Algorithmic share trading already causes havoc in rapid buying and selling of shares at dizzying speed – giving human greed a dangerous technological boost in stock market speculation.  Algorithmic trading will cause job losses not in the way PwC expects, but through periodic financial scandals and subsequent global stock market crashes.

The transport sector could have huge job-loss in the third phase circa year 2035, declares the PwC study, when driverless vehicles take over roads. Overall the less-educated among the workforce and women could be more severely affected in job losses from automation. “Governments and business need to work together to help people to adjust to these new technologies through retraining and career changes” recommend PwC economists.  “A culture of adaptability and lifelong learning will be crucial for spreading the benefits of AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics widely through society.”  Change is the only constant and how we adapt to change defines how well we live our lives.   Changes can be unpleasant but trying to dodge unpleasant truths is as futile as trying to dodge one’s shadow.  Reality has to be faced, however much it means entering discomfort zones. Compare out childhood years to your 2018, and we see how much life has changed within a lifetime: gone are neighbourhood book libraries that circulated Tintin and Asterix Comics, adventures of the Five Find-outers, Billy Bunter and Biggles in the holidays of childhood summers.  Where are those once familiar faces of library owners now?  Likewise videotape libraries that appeared and disappeared, music recording (pirating) shops, audio cassettes, the big floppy disks of early personal computers,   rotary dial telephones … all once part of daily life, now gone but unmissed in their extinction.

With that expanding list – starting to include entries like wrist watches – went manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers; gone are thousands of jobs dependent on those business and products, like Fuji camera film gone with the winds in days of digital photography.  But changes appear sudden only when failing to notice or ignore gradual transformation.

A long-term dip in demand for a particular format of delivery of service and products, sounds warning bells of change, may be extinction. Adaptability then becomes a key to excelling in a life in the never ending flow of impermanence.  It first needs accepting the truth of change, and then changing one’s skills or mode of business. The ostrich-head-in-the-sand act of burying the mind to reality will never help.

Changes inevitably happen in all walks of life.  When I started my professional journalism career, the poor sub-editor had to often key-in handwritten copies on typewriters. Now possibly all media houses have websites, news delivered on mobile phones.  The age of online journalism needs digital evolution embracing multi-media and latest technologies.  Water changes to ice, vapour or liquid according to temperature, and likewise gradual shifts of socio-economic circumstances compel quick adaptability.  

Who knows how many everyday objects and services of 2018 will have vanished by the year 2048? As the PwC study suggested, car drivers and even cars as we know might disappear – just as wooden-wheeled bullock carts often seen during boyhood summer holidays in my native village in Sergudi have vanished in the global village of the 21st century.  That is why it is better to strive to excel in life, not merely survive; the pursuit of excellence ensures strength of mind and alertness to change.  We get the safety margin to sail the perpetual tides of change, than being drowned to joblessness and extinction.

It depends on individual outlook to life: being negative to change, or welcoming it to happy evolution to a better world. If all our distant ancestors were not receptive to changes, we might still be lolling in caves and brandishing stone-clubs in the hunt for lunch.

*The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist     


Further Insights 

(Source:  QUARTZ 8th February 2018)

a ROBOTLEO robot at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in BeijingIn late 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that automation and other new technology could mean that 375 million people around the world will need to change occupations to avoid being completely put out of work by machines. Many more millions of people will in some way be displaced by automation.

Other research has suggested the impact won’t be equal. There’s a risk that gender and racial inequality will be exacerbated by automation, as women and some ethnic minority groups are more likely to work in the lower-skilled jobs that are susceptible to automation, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research.

A new report by PwC suggests that it might not be so straightforward. The global consulting firm defines three separate waves of automation: the algorithm wave (encompassing the automation of simple computational tasks and analysis of structured data); the augmentation wave (automation of repeatable tasks, exchanging information through dynamic technological support, and statistical analysis of unstructured data); and the autonomy wave (automation that involves problem solving in dynamic real-world situations with responsive actions, such as driverless cars).

The first wave is already under way, the second is also happening now but won’t properly take off until the 2020s, and the third can’t be expected to have a serious impact on labour markets until the 2030s, the report says.

In these waves, different industries will be affected to varying degrees. For example, the financial and insurance industry will face most of its disruption from the augmentation wave, whereas the construction industry will be hit harder by the autonomy wave.

PwC also finds that these waves will impact men and women differently. The first two waves are likely to impact women more, putting potentially 23% of jobs at risk, but the third autonomy wave will effect men more severely. So by the mid-2030s as the autonomy wave is well under way, 34% of male jobs are at risk of automation, versus 26% for women.

The differences are even more stark among younger people. For men under the age of 25, there is a greater rate of potential automation of their jobs (46%) compared with that for young women (26%). This is mostly explained by the different types of jobs men and women tend to do within industries. For example, in the wholesale and retail trade sector, young men are often in craft and trade work, whereas young women are more likely or be in service and sales work.

Across all age groups, women could be displaced first due to the larger numbers of women in clerical positions in different industries. But at a broader level, women are more concentrated in sectors such as education and health, which require more personal and social skills that are less easily automated (for now).

All this being said, PwC’s estimates are based on the technical feasibility of automation. In reality, economic, legal, regulatory, or organizational constraints could limit the true impact. Because public policy will likely be needed to offset the inequitable impact of automation, with less-educated people hurt the most, this could also slow the technological progress. “Just because something can be automated in theory does not mean it will be economically or politically viable in practice,” the report wisely reminds us.



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