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For the greater good? The loss of jobs in the digital era

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The year is 2040. Drones buzz over neighbourhoods, delivering packages. Smart homes, with interconnected Wi-Fi devices, eliminate the need for housework. Driverless vehicles take us from A to B at great speed. Wars are still fought but digitally, with lines of code and armies of robots. We vacation in space, and share stories about the moon.

In this intelligent machine age, what role will we play? Some reports, examining the implications of the digital revolution for labour markets, are forecasting a bleak future.

The concerns relate to the potential for labour displacement, as systems of artificial intelligence and automation gain increasing traction in the workplace. As these systems evolve and become ever more sophisticated, the argument goes that they will be able to outperform humans, offering greater degrees of precision, efficiency, competitiveness and reliability. Over time, a larger share of our operations is likely to be outsourced to machines.

Does this hypothesis have merit? Will capital soon no longer be able to cohabit in harmony with labour? Should we be concerned about the prospect of mass ‘technological unemployment’?

The man vs. machine debate is centuries-old. John Maynard Keynes first popularised the term ‘technological unemployment’ in his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. Keynes regarded the phenomenon as a “temporary phase of maladjustment” for countries at the frontier of progress. On the other side of the debate, techno-pessimists, such as the classical economist, David Ricardo, instead, believed that the introduction of new technologies could lead to a sustained decline of the working population.

To understand which argument aligns better with today’s technological and labour market landscape, let’s consider some recent developments.

It is undeniable that the world and our role within it is rapidly changing. Just look at the staggering developments taking place in the transportation sector. In the Jetsons, an animated sitcom which first aired six decades ago, the inhabitants of an imaginary future commuted to work in flying cars. Today, we are on the brink of turning that vision into reality. UBER has plans to establish an aerial taxi service by 2023, and other companies have already developed flying car prototypes. Many projects under development today weren’t even anticipated by the science fiction of the past. For instance, Elon Musk, the man behind both Tesla and SpaceX, is building an underground network of tunnels that run many layers deep across the eastern United States, to transport cars and alleviate congestion challenges. In addition, in several countries, driverless cars are currently being tested. Automakers anticipate that fully-autonomous vehicles will be chauffeuring us around within the next three years.

These are just a small selection of the numerous examples of comprehensive transformation taking place today. But will we really benefit from such change? We have to wonder whether there is some irrational exuberance.

The long view of innovation, however, provides good reason for optimism. During each era of revolutionary change, innovation has lifted productivity, reduced the prices of goods and services, created new industries, stimulated output and generated fresh employment opportunities.

The first industrial revolution brought with it the power of steam and machine-based manufacturing. The new industries and jobs it generated more than offset the displacement of skilled workers producing hand-made goods. The advent of the automobile in the 19th century did the same, relative to the jobs that were lost from the horse and carriage economy. More recently, the silicon revolution gave us the power of computing, and the internet. These technologies created new businesses, tore down geographical barriers and massively disrupted the ways in which we interact. Like those that preceded it, the silicon revolution, generated far more jobs than were lost, for example in basic administrative operations.

In other words, the available body of empirical evidence indicates that short-term labour displacement, arising from technological change, has always been more than offset by the expansion of labour markets in the long-term. There is also some evidence of a similar pattern taking shape today. Since the global financial crisis the rate of unemployment has fallen sharply, and the main reason behind this decline has been very strong rates of new job creation. In the UK, technology has recently contributed to the loss of 800,000 jobs but has helped to create at least 3.5 million jobs. Each of these jobs is paying, on average, almost £10,000 more per annum compared to those that have been lost. Business sentiment, additionally, remains largely positive regarding the impact of technology on labour markets. A recent survey, undertaken by KPMG, of chief executive officers (CEOs) in the UK, reveals that seventy-one per cent believe that artificial intelligence will create more jobs than it destroys.

OK, let’s pause for a bit.

The past is not always a reliable indicator of the future. So could this time be different? There is reason to think so. Technological change is progressing at an unprecedented rate. New advancements are taking place almost daily, and their diffusion into the workplace is accelerating.

Last year, over 40 per cent of adults in the UK managed their bank accounts using smartphones. Within the next five years, this figure is projected to rise to 70 per cent, reflecting increasing numbers of mobile users in rural areas. By that time, analysts believe that customers will only visit their bank only twice a year. These trends have driven a heavy consolidation of banks around the world. In 2017, major UK banks shut, or announced plans to shut, nearly 1,000 branches. Thousands of jobs have already been lost.

A shift to driverless vehicles, likewise, could impact significant numbers of people, from lorry drivers to bus drivers to the various constituents of the gig economy. In the UK alone, over a half million people are currently employed in road transportation. Relative to earlier anxieties regarding the potential of systems like UBER to reduce jobs for ‘black cab’ drivers, these new developments surely provide greater grounds for unease.

Workers in the fast food industry could also be at risk, owing to technologies that enable self-service. McDonald’s, for instance, recently piloted “create your taste” touchscreens in its US-based restaurants. Through this system, customers could craft their own burger, and place orders at the touch of a button. The need for human interaction was eliminated. In America alone, almost 4 million people are currently employed in fast food restaurants.

Even recruiters are finding themselves threatened. Based on social media activity, work tenure, and purchasing history, algorithms can now predict when someone will be ready for a job. Text analysis can identify skills and experience many times faster than humans can. As a result, some estimates are giving the existing HR recruitment industry two to four years more at best. Hiring, for now, will still require a human touch. But that may change over time too. It is not implausible to imagine software capable of assessing personality, which scrutinises candidates on factors such as tone, facial movements and body language.

The list of impacted industries goes on and on and on. All are in the same boat.

So was Keynes right, or was Ricardo? Before we jump to conclusions regarding the nature of the relationship between technological innovation and labour markets, let’s try a little thought experiment. Take it as given that, in line with empirical evidence, the disruption being observed in labour markets today will in the future be overshadowed by an expansion in output and jobs. That being the case, would you be prepared to forego your employment now to enable a higher standard of living for your children and your grandchildren tomorrow?

If the evidence checks out, then our view on technology and the value of innovation really boils down to this one question.

Source: Commonwealth

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Our Shared Digital Future

MD Staff

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Building a digital economy and society that is trusted, inclusive and sustainable requires urgent attention in six priority areas according to a new report, Our Shared Digital Future, published by the World Economic Forum today.

The report represents a collaborative effort by business, government and civil society leaders, experts and practitioners. It follows an 18-month dialogue aimed at restoring the internet’s capacity for delivering positive social and economic development.

The report comes at a historic moment on the day when, for the first time, more than one-half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet. At the same time, less than one-half of those already online trust that technology will make their lives better.

With 60% of the global economy forecast to be digitized by 2022, there remains huge potential for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to lift more people out of poverty and strengthen societies and communities. However, success depends on effective collaboration between all stakeholder groups. The authors, in addition to unveiling six key areas for action, also highlight several existing efforts at global and local levels where collaboration is helping to restore trust and deliver broad-based societal benefits.

The six priority areas for multistakeholder collaboration are:

Internet access and adoption

Internet access growth has slowed from 19% in 2007 to 6% in 2017. At the same time, we have reached the milestone of 50% of the world’s population being connected to the internet. To close the digital divide, more investment is needed to not only provide access, but also improve adoption.

Good digital identity

By 2020, the average internet user will have more than 200 online accounts and by 2022, 150 million people are forecast to have blockchain-based digital identities. However, 1 billion people currently lack a formal identity, which excludes them from the growing digital economy. Good digital identity solutions are key to addressing this divide, empowering individuals, and protecting their rights in society.

Positive impact on society

By 2022, an estimated 60% of global GDP will be digitized. In 2018, companies are expected to spend more than $1.2 trillion on digital transformation efforts. Yet, only 45% of the world’s population feel that technology will improve their lives. Companies need to navigate digital disruption and develop new responsible business models and practices.

Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks result in annual losses of up to $400 billion to the global economy. More than 4.5 billion records were compromised by malicious actors in the first half of 2018, up from 2.7 billion records for the whole of 2017. A safe and secure digital environment requires global norms and practices to mitigate cyber-risks.

Governance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Policy-makers and traditional governance models are being challenged by the sheer magnitude and speed of the technological changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developing new and participatory governance mechanisms to complement traditional policy and regulation is essential to ensure widespread benefits, close the digital divide and address the global nature of these developments.

Data

The amount of data that keeps the digital economy flowing is growing exponentially. By 2020, there will be more than 20 billion connected devices globally. Yet there is no consensus on whether data is a type of new currency for companies to trade or a common public good that needs stricter rules and protection. The digital economy and society must bridge this gap by developing innovations that allow society to benefit from data while protecting privacy, innovation and criminal justice.

“The digital environment is like our natural environment,” said Derek O’Halloran, Head, Future of Digital Economy and Society, the World Economic Forum. “We all – governments, businesses, individuals – have a duty to ensure it remains clean, safe and healthy. This paper marks a step forward in offering a blueprint for a better internet we can all work towards: One that is inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable.”

The report is part of ongoing work by the World Economic Forum to provide a platform to accelerate, amplify or catalyse collaborative efforts from business, government, academia and civil society to advance progress towards an inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable digital economy. The report provides an overview of key issues for the digital economy and society, establishes priorities for multistakeholder collaboration for the year ahead, and highlights existing key initiatives and resources.

“Our existing institutions, mechanisms and models are struggling to effectively respond to the pace of digital change and its distributed nature. This report identifies critical areas of focus for public-private partnerships to help restore trust in an inclusive and prosperous digital future,” said Jim Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Thomson Reuters and Co-Chair, World Economic Forum System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and Society.

“While recognizing that digital developments fuel many opportunities in political, commercial and social spheres, a key point of this paper is the need to focus on inclusion and addressing digital divides; only through incorporating more voices and views – in the development of political and commercial policies – will we be able to create a society that truly benefits all,” said Lynn St. Amour, Chair of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF)’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group, and Co-Chair, World Economic Forum System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and Society.

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Internet milestone reached: More than 50 per cent go online

MD Staff

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For the first time, more than half of the world’s population of nearly 8 billion will be using the internet by the end of 2018, the United Nations telecommunications agency announced on Friday.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) global and regional estimates for 2018 are “a pointer to the great strides the world is making towards building a more inclusive global information society,” Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, said.

The record figure of 3.9 billion people, or 51.2 per cent that will be online by the end of December, is an important milestone in the digital revolution, according to the ITU. The agency insists that this increased connectivity will help promote sustainable development everywhere.

The latest figures also spotlight Africa, which shows the strongest rate of growth in internet access, from around two per cent in 2005, to more than 24 per cent of the African population this year.

Europe and the Americas are the regions with the slowest growth rates, though the current figures show that 79.6 per cent and 69.6 per cent are online, respectively.

Overall, said the ITU, “in developed countries, slow and steady growth increased the percentage of population using the Internet, from 51.3 per cent in 2005 to 80.9 per cent in 2018.”

Despite this progress, ITU has warned that a lot of communities worldwide, still do not use the internet, particularly women and girls. The statistics show older people also disproportionately remain offline, as do those with disabilities, indigenous populations and some people living in the world’s poorest places.

In a bid to reduce inequalities, the agency is calling on more infrastructure investment from the public and private sectors, and to focus on ensuring that access remains affordable for all.

“We must encourage more investment from the public and private sectors and create a good environment to attract investments, and support technology and business innovation so that the digital revolution leaves no one offline,” said Mr. Zhao.

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Utilizing Artificial Intelligence for Environmental Sustainability

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The improvement in human development is becoming vividly contingent on the surrounding natural environment, and may be confined by its future deterioration as a response to the negative stimulus. Man-made problems like increasing population, urbanization and industrialisation, of which our mother earth is a victim in this century, have forced society to consider whether human beings are changing the very conditions essential to life on Earth. Antediluvian technologies have played a very meager role in the planning, prediction, supervision and control of environmental processes at different scales and within various time spans. An effective environment protection policy is largely dependent on the quality of information available and the utility of contemporary technologies like Artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning and data analytics that can be used to take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time. This convergence can help AI move from in vitro (in research labs) to in vivo (in everyday lives).

The global environment is in a bad shape. Natural disasters around the world are happening at an alarming rate, we have witnessed earthquakes, wildfires and cyclones that cause mass flooding and property damage. Around twenty per cent of species currently face extinction, and that number could rise to 50 per cent by 2100. And even if all the world economies keep their Paris climate pledges, by 2100, it’s predicted that average global temperatures will be 3˚C higher than in pre-industrial times, making it an invincible environmental catastrophe. There are reports which suggest that the recent fire break in California, United States of America and the floods in Kerala, India could have been mitigated effectively with proper supervision and planning. Here comes the role of AI.AI is considered to be the most dynamic game-changer in the global economy. According to a World Economic Forum report, Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for the Earth, AI refers to computer systems that “can sense their environment, think, learn, and act in response to what they perceive and their programmed purposes.” AI has helped environment researchers clinch almost 90 per cent accuracy in spotting climate change factors like tropical cyclones, weather fronts, tidal changes and atmospheric rivers, which can cause heavy precipitation and are often impossible for humans to identify on their own.  In India, AI has helped farmers get 30 per cent higher yields per hectare by providing information on preparing the land, applying fertilizer and choosing sowing dates, as reported by the Government of India in 2018. In Norway, AI has penetrated into the field of policy-making and helped create a flexible and autonomous electric grid, integrating more renewable energy.

The long list of technology and economy shapers, who believe that artificial intelligence, often encompassing machine learning and deep learning, is a “game changer” for climate change and environmental issues, includes Microsoft, Google, IBM and Tesla among others. Microsoft’s AI for Earth program has committed $50 million over five years to develop and test novel tech-applications for AI. In China, IBM’ Green Horizon project is utilizing an AI system that can forecast air pollution, track pollution sources and develop potential strategies and solutions to tackle it. For instance, data analysis can be used to determine whether it would be more effective to restrict carbon output close certain power plants in order to reduce pollution in a particular zone. The Ocean Data Alliance is developing a machine learning system to provide data from satellites and ocean exploration so that decision-makers can monitor shipping, ocean mining, fishing, coral bleaching or the outbreak of a marine disease. Modern technologies like artificial intelligence, geographic information system tools and movement detectors, are revamping the way wildlife reserves and conservation bodies are working across India.AI can also help prophesy the spread of invasive materials, keep a track of marine litter and measure water pollution levels. The 21st century is the age of data, with accuracy as the key, decision-makers and authorities will be able to respond to problems more quickly with real-time data. Considering the global evolution of AI and its application, it is evidentially predicted that by 2030, AI will add up to USD 15.7 trillion of the global economy which is more than the present output of China and India combined.  The United Nations recognize that AI has the potential to accelerate progress towards a dignified life, in peace and prosperity, for all people. The UN Artificial Intelligence Summit held in Geneva (2017) suggested refocusing the use of this technology, on achieving sustainable development goals and assisting global economies to eliminate poverty and to conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Countries and civil societies develop incredible AI application systems with diverse features, but sometimes these systems do not take into consideration the good of individuals and society. So, it is important to develop systems which can deliver the change required to build a clean, resource-secure and inclusive economy, enabled by technology and supported by public policy and investment. Many industry giants like Microsoft, Google and Tesla, while pushing the parameters for human innovations, have made productive efforts in developing ‘Earth Friendly’ or ‘Eco-Friendly’ AI mechanisms. For instance, Google’s brainchild DeepMind AI has helped the organization to curb their data centre energy usage by 40 per cent making them more energy efficient and reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.AI innovation will also be fundamental to the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will also promote the resolution of humanity’s grand challenges by maximizing on the unequalled quantities of data now being generated on sentiment behaviour, human health, migration and more.

For any country to maximally benefit from the AI revolution, it must adopt a deliberate policy to drive AI innovation and proliferation in sectors affecting climate change. With powerful economies making rapid progress in AI-based research, it is imperative that the World looks at AI as a critical element of environmental sustainability. These recent advances in AI are a wake-up call to policymakers as our climate is under increasing strain. Aiming for sustainability is an opportunity of this generation. AI and other Fourth Industrial revolution ideas are the new innovative solutions that can revolutionize environmental protection measures.

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