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Technology Over Employment

With the huge applications of advanced technologies in different sectors of the economy, many people have come under the impression that such a change would have an adverse impact on their jobs and livelihoods. Here is a willfully counterintuitive opinion to the question so that people introspect and really understand the essence and need of the shift in thought process for evolution. The fear of change has always hindered the evolution of mankind, and only after certain strong uprisings, were the greatest of changes adopted for the common good, which at first sight were regarded as an attack on the major beliefs of the people. Governments are being pleaded to take necessary steps to prevent such mass-scale technological unemployment1. So, I embark on a journey to elucidate the question of a tradeoff between the rising levels of unemployment and the advancement in technology. This question points to technological unemployment which is on the rise with the advent of robots, artificial intelligence; automation of low-paid jobs, and so forth. It’s kind of hard to avoid evolution but the faster and more warmly, we adapt ourselves to changes, the less the harshness and the brunt of the change would be evidenced by mankind. It’s really hard to see new technology replacing us but alas, change is inevitable and even Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution believes in the survival of the fittest.

Historical Allusion to the Evolutionary Saga

Technology has been derived from the Greek words tekhnē meaning a form of art, craft and – logia meaning word discourse of something. So when technology means a form of a discourse of art or creativity within a person, how can it become a cause for snatching away people’s livelihood, i.e., their jobs? Is the current world educational infrastructure this weak that the 'music' within a willing person cannot be brought out in the form of a lively performance? I don’t think there are enough hindrances to stop a determined person to champion this era of advancement, except for the population living in extreme poverty, for that will bring into question a different idea related to poverty which would involve the intervention on the government’s part to make technology available to the poorest of people in their country. The Luddite2 Fallacy becomes a quite pertinent example of the current scenario. In earlier centuries, people used to think of maintaining religious affiliation and social obligations as their life, but in the 21st century, one’s professional life defines their social obligations. The tools of empowerment are right in their hands, waiting to be used mindfully and efficiently.3 Online dissemination of such educational resources required for training oneself to become compatible with a more technology-embedded world is the cornerstone providing a strong base for the workforce to become accustomed to the newly- unlocked field of work like information technology, blockchain, big data etc. Though I agree to some extent that there would be a sudden rise in short-term technological unemployment, but with the correct steps and attitudes, we would surely be able to wade through this predicament. In the worst-case scenario, there would be a huge number of displaced workers in the economy with a historical set of skills having no intrinsic value in a tech-embedded world. In this situation, the upper hand would be of the Government to ramp up its social security net to absorb a huge number of such outdated workers until people get equipped with the tools of survival in this technology-fuelled world and a major portion of the workforce becomes qualified to get back to work, in reduced numbers.

Implications of the Application of Advanced Technology

According to a report published by PwC, the correct amount of investment and the ready-to-accept attitude can cause significant transformation in productivity and the GDP potential of the global economy. Their research showed that 45% of total economic gains by 2030 would come from product enhancements, stimulating consumer demand. That was because AI would drive greater product variety, with increased personalization, attractiveness, and affordability over time. They pegged the gains of such timely deployment of Artificial Intelligence at $15.7 trillion by 2030. These gains would not disappear in thin air but would surely be tantamount to increasing the purchasing power of the consumers and raising the standard of living.

Positive Outlook

Various reports are suggesting that the US unemployment rate peaked at 9.9% during the year 2009 which has now been reduced to 3.5% (2019) due to technological developments.4 As we can see there has been a reduction in the unemployment rate consequently over the past few years. From here we can conclude that besides technological development, employment opportunities are also created in the long run. Fig: Evolution of unemployment and the expense in science and technology in Latin America

Solution for a Tradeoff

A report by Mckinsey Global Institute, focusing on 46 countries representing about 80 per cent of the global workforce, has examined more than 2,000 work activities and quantified the technical feasibility of automating each of them. The proportion of occupations that can be fully automated using currently demonstrated technology is actually small—less than five per cent 5. Denmark’s already existing “Flexicurity system 6, 7” holds a promising future model required for a dynamic world where governments would surely need to reconfigure their labour laws in a more worker-friendly manner. Thus the tradeoff is not as inevitable as the evolution. There is no stopping this technological revolution and it will definitely sweep through all the economies of the world sooner or later, so a saner action would be to brace for such a necessary change in the whole horizon. A lot of potentially transformative technologies will still require a human touch.

“As jobs are lost, new professions will emerge. The question is whether the job loss can be offset by the jobs created in the new fields and if people losing their jobs can access the new opportunities.”

Umang Jain
Writing Mentorship Programme

References

1 Mounting a Response to Technological Unemployment, 2019 https://tcf.org/content/report/mounting-response-technological-unemployment/?agreed=1

2 ILO’s Study on Emerging technologies and future of jobs in India, 2018 https://www.ilo.org/newdelhi/whatwedo/eventsandmeetings/WCMS_644399/lang--en/index.html

3 Technology is killing jobs and only technology can save them, 2017 https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/26/technology-is-killing-jobs-and-only-technology-can-save-them/

4 COTTON TEXTILES AND THE GREAT DIVERGENCE: LANCASHIRE, INDIA AND SHIFTING COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE, 2005 ,http://www.iisg.nl/hpw/papers/broadberry-gupta.pdf

5 Technology, jobs, and the future of work,2017 https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/technology-jobs-and-the-future-of-work#

6 The Flexicurity System of Labour organization,2020 https://www.star.dk/en/about-the-danish-agency-for-labour-market-and-recruitment/flexicurity/

7 The Danish Labour Market,2020 https://denmark.dk/society-and-business/the-danish-labour-market

8 University of Kent,2018 https://cmte.ieee.org/futuredirections/2018/05/01/robots-are-not-the-problem-the-digital-transformation-is-the-problem-ii/

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