Brexit, Automation, Digital Age and Us

The referendum for Brexit by the people of the United Kingdom seeking to part ways with the European Union (EU) throws a few poignant questions on where the world is heading. The instability is further enhanced by visible cues from the Republican Party in the United States with its projected leader, Donald Trump seeking to rake up the xenophobic feelings against migration, and hatred for a religious minority.

  • Are we seeking to go back to our past to resurrect a state, where countries were isolated, and collaborations were limited?
  • In this connected world, where messages move almost at the speed of light, can isolation work?

In the last two decades, the internet has become deeply entrenched, and associated with day to day lives.  Technical advancements have been quick, and human beings in general have gained by having better control, and exposure to usage of services. These advancements in general have affected some of the jobs, but created a whole range of new services and work areas. Information Technology (IT) industry therefore, has, not only created numerous jobs, but also has given ample options for reskilling, and redistribution of labor.

One such advancement of technology which is abuzz is “Robots”. These were created, and used by the Japanese, who were the pioneers in research with Artificial Intelligence. More often, they used these robots as toys, and in games. They did replace a few mundane, and repetitive jobs in manufacturing as part of Flexible Manufacturing Systems, particularly in automobile companies like Toyota. The nature of these displacements, however, was not as much as impacting as the recent experiments suggest. With the U.S & Japanese companies, along with, Research & Development establishments devoting considerable effort to create humanoids and build intelligence, new developments which are termed “disruptive” have emerged, each of  which could potentially remove jobs in millions. Take for instance the “driverless car” experiments from Google or a few auto companies in USA.  What happens to the jobs of drivers? The drones from the US Department of Defense are operational for some time, particularly for reconnaissance, and in war to weed out terrorists without “pilots” onboard.

Replacement of labor in industries with the purpose of gaining operational efficiency, and profitability has been in vogue for quite some time – from the introduction of machines to automate the textile industry; to introduction of automated systems and flexible manufacturing systems; to companies like IBM, and Accenture that have moved to destinations abroad to scout for cheap techies in place of the expensive ones in the United States.

When it comes to robots, however, the cost advantage that they bring in to the table cannot be matched by any salaried employee – in fact robots do not work for salary. They are adept at doing repetitive jobs, at no extra cost without becoming fatigued. Not surprisingly, the world’s three large employers – Foxconn, US Department of Defense, and Walmart are replacing workers with robots, reports Business Insider. Foxconn is a key manufacturer for Google, Apple and Amazon – is 10th largest employer in the world, and has used robots to replace 60,000 workers. Citi and Oxford predict that about 77% jobs in China, and 57% jobs from 34 OECD countries are prone to risks due to automation. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2020, 5 million jobs could be lost globally.  A utilization of automation dubbed Robotic Process Automation ( RPA) is also being developed and implemented which would potentially replace cheap BPO jobs as well. It is just not the workers who are at risk. Even the highly educated professionals like medical, or journalists could be at risk if artificial Intelligence has its way. In fact, IBM has claimed to develop a computer that can diagnose cancer better than doctors.

It is this undercurrent of technology, coupled with a long recession, which seems to have created a jingoist attitude – that of holding on to whatever available, or grabbing even what is not available among the masses, causing Brexit. It reminds one of famine – the Russian famine, consequently forcing human beings into cannibalism, in order to survive.

The neo-Luddites are back.  The army of textile workers, known as Luddites had protested against the machines introduced during the Industrial Revolution in England, since then and the struggle seems to have continued, albeit in a different way during this Fourth Industrial revolution of Robots, RPA, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Technologies and human beings.

While robots usually create efficiency and profits for the companies they work for, they also require human support – to manage and monitor them, to maintain them and replace them; if the need be. As such, artificial intelligence (AI) is “artificial”, as it is developed completely by humans. Each norm of intelligence that is impregnated within a robot with AI requires development, testing, and implementation by human beings.  These programs also require inputs from data analysts, since any artificial intelligence requires a lot of learning that the robot (humanoid) has to do.  For example, just to make a robot understand what a “flower” is, it has to be fed a lot of comprehensive data. Recently, Google’s artificial intelligence program erred by tagging a Black man as a Gorrilla, due to inadequate data. The vast requirements of data that the Artificial Intelligence, and Digital Technologies require is called Big Data in Software parlance. This in turn requires new software, and technical members to maintain such data and databases. Data Analyst is a new job profile that is created to define, and analyze such data.

Each technological revolution leads to job loss for some, and new jobs created for others. It is important to reskill, and keep oneself updated with skills, which would be applicable under the transformed environment. If the number of jobs created are less than the jobs lost, we are going to see more and more of social adjustments like Brexit or social unrest. Governments need to collaborate more on job creation, since only job creation for human beings would keep the social environment under control.

The future for us is CHANGE, so as to adjust to rapid automation. We need to learn to coexist with the robots and being productive during the age of robots.

 

Sudipta Choudhury
Sudipta Choudhury is a Technical / Business Writer with considerable industry experience in various domains. He can be reached at sudipta_choudhury@writeforvalue.com

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Sudipta Choudhury

Sudipta Choudhury is a Technical / Business Writer with considerable industry experience in various domains. He can be reached at sudipta_choudhury@writeforvalue.com

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