The Shape of Things to Come
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Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) follows the life of a companion child robot David in a future where half of the world has submerged in water, and humans live with robots called Mechas. David — an advanced prototype of its predecessors — has been specially designed to love unconditionally (as a human child loves his mother) and is equipped with most human emotions. English scientist Alan Turning was arguably the first one to arrive at the conclusion in 1950 that machines can be programmed to learn and think. Over the years, with the advancement and the emergence of some avant-garde computer scientists all this has become a reality. Today, robotics industry is disrupting the market and there exists a range of robots — from humanoid to industrial robots.
With the advent of AI and automation, there has been a shift in the way a lot of things are done. For instance, warehousing with minimal human interference has been a pivotal change for businesses around the world. It is difficult to say that humans can outmatch robots, when it comes to efficiency and accuracy in certain areas. The same has been the case with manufacturing where robotized assembly plants have made a large impact. The sectors such as services, construction, banking, manufacturing etc have taken significant strides due to AI and related technologies. In the coming years, healthcare sector would rely heavily on these technologies. However, like everything that has its upside, AI has its downside as well. While AI has expedited processes related to many aspects of businesses, it has taken away many jobs previously done by humans — making a large chunk of workforce redundant. And AI and related technologies such as robotics, drones and autonomous vehicles will displace many more jobs in the future.
However, according to many recent reports, the displacement of jobs would be concurrent with the creation of jobs in AI-related areas but there'd be fewer routine jobs. Indeed, technologies and innovations in the past two decades have helped businesses immensely. The disorganized way in which aircrafts were designed and built back in the 1960s and how it is done now is a great example — automation has brought down manufacturing time significantly. It used to take around 81 months to manufacture a single Boeing 747 aircraft back then. And around 5000 engineers used to work (drawing blueprints and what not) to accomplish the same. And in the end, they had to collate everything. But when computers came into the picture in the 1980s everything changed. Today, a Boeing 777 is manufactured within 83 days. So in a way technology has been the game-changer for humankind and has complemented the work of humans. Yet, it poses a big challenge for us: what about the human jobs which would get automated or taken over by robots?
A BLEAK FUTURE?
According to a recent PwC research, the global GDP is expected to witness a surge due to AI by 2030 — it would cross $15 trillion mark. With that, around 30 percent of jobs stand at risk of getting automated. Around 44 percent workers with basic or low education are likely to become redundant by 2030. The researchers arrived at these conclusions after taking into account over 200,000 jobs in over 29 countries.
The economic benefits that technology is expected to bring in, comes with challenges such as job creation and upskilling the workers. John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC (UK), who has been researching on AI for many years, says, “We expect healthcare to benefit the most from AI and robotics. It will combine strong underlying demand growth with a relatively high propensity to see benefits from application of these technologies. However, most of the new jobs created will have nothing directly to do with AI or robots, but will simply be the product of a richer society with consequent increased demand for goods and services.” Over the next two decade or so, in China — the country slated to become the biggest economy of the world (if it managed to overcome the prevailing slowdown) — around 26 percent existing jobs would be automated. In the UK and the US, AI and related technologies are expected to displace a great many jobs whilst giving a significant boost to the GDP of both these countries. “While we project the net economic impact of AI on global GDP to be positive, these technologies will be disruptive. For governments around the world, the challenge is to maximize the benefits from these technologies, while mitigating the costs to displaced workers through re-training programs and a stronger social safety net, funded from the proceeds of increased economic growth. This is the only way we can spread the potential benefits from AI and related technologies,” Hawksworth explains.
The way new jobs would be created after AI and automation would completely take over is a baffling process. A PwC report published in July suggests that letting robots work in certain areas would be cost-effective, and this, in turn, would increase “the real income and spending” of companies. They would then hire more human workers (note: not the cost-effective robots) to produce the additional goods required to meet the demand.
GROWING ECONOMIC INEQUALITY
The world is ever-evolving. In every epoch, the world has forsaken the old to entamer the new. First, came industrialization and swarms of people abandoned fields to move to factories. Then came knowledge economy, which brought the masses from factories to offices and now we are moving from human economy to something that can easily be summed up in a few words: machines have taken over. The stiff competition among major economies and the prevalent trade wars have put profits and revenues above all, even if they come at the cost of putting the future in jeopardy. Michael Gibbs, clinical professor of Economics at University of Chicago, says, “It is likely that AI will end up displacing new types of jobs with cognitive tasks. Moreover, this is happening so fast that I do expect society to adjust eventually — we may end up focusing more on jobs requiring social interactions, creativity, artisanal applications, etc… which doesn’t seem on the surface to be a bad thing." The rate at which AI's influence over businesses is burgeoning has taken many by surprise. There are many prominent names like the late scientist Stephen Hawkins, SpaceX’s Elon Musk, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and others who have given warnings about AI’s dominance. Their concern is that if machines went rogue they would wreak havoc on our future. Recently, an economist in the UK, Dr Jeffrey Sachs suggested a special tax to be levied on the technology industry's giants thriving on AI, so as to maintain income balance. “The rate at which we adjust is likely to be slower than the rate of change in jobs due to AI. We are likely to see increasing economic inequality, which is already creating difficult political and social dynamics across the globe,” Gibbs warns.
CLOSER TO HOME
In India, the robotics industry is still at a nascent stage but AI has already begun casting its spell across sectors. According to a report by World Bank, 70 percent of the country’s workforce would be impacted due to automation. Presently, the Indian robotics industry is witnessing a growth of 12 percent and the rate is expected to rise. By 2025, the healthcare sector would grow by 20 percent. Surgical robots are already present at many of the leading chains of Indian hospitals. Recruitment related AI technologies too are disrupting the Indian market, and as many as 50 robotics firms have come to fore in the past few years. In India, IT sector accounts for $155 billion and employs around 3.9 million of the workforce. AI would impact this sector significantly.
“India’s labor market has a greater percentage of lower-skilled workers, in manufacturing, agriculture and services. These areas are all going to be modernized and mechanized over the time, so will change dramatically. However, that is not due so much to AI as to older forms of mechanization, and this may make India’s workers more valued, or at least may grow demand. So these sectors might actually increase labor demand [in a way],” Gibbs says.
(This article was first published in the December issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)