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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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US Blacklist of Chinese Surveillance Companies Creates Supply Chain Confusion

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The United States Department of Commerce’s decision to blacklist 28 Chinese public safety organizations and commercial entities hit at some of China’s most dominant vendors within the security industry. Of the eight commercial entities added to the blacklist, six of them are some of China’s most successful digital forensics, facial recognition, and AI companies. However, the two surveillance manufacturers who made this blacklist could have a significant impact on the global market at large—Dahua and Hikvision.

Putting geopolitics aside, Dahua’s and Hikvision’s positions within the overall global digital surveillance market makes their blacklisting somewhat of a shock, with the immediate effects touching off significant questions among U.S. partners, end users, and supply chain partners.

Frost & Sullivan’s research finds that, currently, Hikvision and Dahua rank second and third in total global sales among the $20.48 billion global surveillance market but are fast-tracking to become the top two vendors among IP surveillance camera manufacturers. Their insurgent rise among IP surveillance camera providers came about due to both companies’ aggressive growth pipelines, significant product libraries of high-quality surveillance cameras and new imaging technologies, and low-cost pricing models that provide customers with higher levels of affordability.

This is also not the first time that these two vendors have found themselves in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. In 2018, the U.S. initiated a ban on the sale and use of Hikvision and Dahua camera equipment within government-owned facilities, including the Department of Defense, military bases, and government-owned buildings. However, the vague language of the ban made it difficult for end users to determine whether they were just banned from new purchases of Dahua or Hikvision cameras or if they needed to completely rip-and-replace existing equipment with another brand. Systems integrators, distributors, and even technology partners themselves remained unsure of how they should handle the ban’s implications, only serving to sow confusion among U.S. customers.

In addition to confusion over how end users in the government space were to proceed regarding their Hikvision and Dahua equipment came the realization that both companies held significant customer share among commercial companies throughout the U.S. market—so where was the ban’s line being drawn for these entities? Were they to comply or not? If so, how? Again, these questions have remained unanswered since 2018.

Hikvision and Dahua each have built a strong presence within the U.S. market, despite the 2018 ban. Both companies are seen as regular participants in industry tradeshows and events, and remain active among industry partners throughout the surveillance ecosystem. Both companies have also attempted to work with the U.S. government to alleviate security concerns and draw clearer guidelines for their sales and distribution partners throughout the country. They even established regional operations centers and headquarters in the country.

While blacklisting does send a clearer message to end users, integrators, and distributors—for sales and usage of these companies’ technologies—remedies for future actions still remain unclear. When it comes to legacy Hikvision and Dahua cameras, the onus appears to be on end users and integrators to decide whether rip-and-replace strategies are the best way to comply with government rulings or to just leave the solutions in place and hope for the best.

As far as broader global impacts of this action, these will remain to be seen. While the 2018 ban did bring about talks of similar bans in other regions, none of these bans ever materialized. Dahua and Hikvision maintained their strong market positioning, even achieving higher-than-average growth rates in the past year. Blacklisting does send a stronger message to global regulators though, so market participants outside the U.S. will just have to adopt a wait-and-see posture to see how, if at all, they may need to prepare their own surveillance equipment supply chains for changes to come.

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After Google’s new set of community standards: What next?

Sisir Devkota

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After weeks of Google’s community standard guidelines made headlines, the Digital Industry Group Inc. (Australia based NGO) rejected proposals from the regulating body based in the southern hemisphere. The group claimed that regulating “fake news” would make the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a moral police institution. In late August, Google itself forbade its employees from indulging in the dissemination of inadequate information or one that involved internal debates. From the outset, the picture is a bit confusing. After the events in Australia, Google’s latest act of disciplinary intrusion seems all but galvanizing from certain interests or interest groups.

A year earlier, Google was shaken by claims of protecting top-level executives from sexual crimes; the issue took a serious turn and almost deteriorated company operations. If anything but Google’s development from the horror of 2018 clearly suggests a desperate need from the hierarchy to curb actions that could potentially damage the interests of several stakeholders. There is no comprehensive evidence to suggest that Google had a view on how the regulations were proposed in Australia. After all, until proven otherwise, all whistleblowing social media posts and comments are at one point of time, “fake”. Although the global giant has decided to discontinue all forms of unjustifiable freedom inside its premises; however, it does profit by providing the platform for activism and all forms of censure. The Digital Industry Group wants the freedom to encourage digital creative contents, but Google’s need to publish a community guideline looks more of a defensive shield against uncertainties.

On its statement, the disciplinary clause, significantly mentions about the actions that will be taken against staffs providing information that goes around Google’s internal message boards. In 2017, female employees inside the Google office were subjected to discrimination based on the “gender-ness” of working positions. Kevin Kernekee, an ex-employee, who was fired in 2018, confirmed that staff bullying was at the core of such messaging platforms. Growing incidents inside Google and its recent community stance are but only fuelling assumptions about the ghost that is surrounding the internet giant’s reputation. Consequently, from the consumer’s point of view, an instable organization of such global stature is an alarm.

The dissidents at Google are not to be blamed entirely. As many would argue, the very foundation of the company was based on the values of expression at work. The nature of access stipulated into Google’s interface is another example of what it stands for, at least in the eyes of consumers. Stakeholders would not wish for an internal turmoil; it would be against the enormous amount of trust invested into the workings of the company. If google can backtrack from its core values upon higher forces, consumers cannot expect anything different. Google is not merely a search engine; for almost half of the internet users, it is almost everything.

“Be responsible, Be helpful, Be thoughtful”. These phrases are the opening remarks from the newly engineered community guideline. As it claims in the document, three principles govern the core values at Google. Upon closer inspection, it also sounds as if the values are only based on what it expects from the people working for the company. A global company that can resort to disciplining its staff via written texts can also trim the rights of its far-reaching consumer groups. It might only be the beginning but the tail is on fire.

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How to Design Responsible Technology

MD Staff

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Biased algorithms and noninclusive data sets are contributing to a growing ‘techlash’ around the world. Today, the World Economic Forum, the international organisation for public-private cooperation has released a new approach to help governments and businesses counter these growing societal risks.

The Responsible Use of Technology report provides a step-by-step framework for companies and governments to pin point where and how they can integrate ethics and human rights-based approaches into innovation. Key questions and actions guide organizations through each phase of a technology’s development process and highlight what can be done and when to help organizations mitigate unethical practices. Notably, the framework can be applied on technology in the ‘final’ use and application phase, empowering users to play an active role in advocating for policies, laws and regulations that address societal risks.

The guide was co-designed by industry leaders from civil society, international organizations and businesses including BSR, the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Microsoft, Uber, Salesforce, IDEO, Deloitte, Omidyar Network and Workday. The team examined national technology strategies, international business programmes and ethical task forces from around the world, combining lessons learned with local expertise to develop a guide that would be inclusive across different cultures.

“Numerous government and large technology companies around the world have announced strategies for managing emerging technologies,” said Pablo Quintanilla, Fellow at the World Economic Forum, and Director in the Office of Innovation, Salesforce. “This project presents an opportunity for companies, national governments, civil society organizations, and consumers to teach and to learn from each other how to better build and deploy ethically-sound technology. Having an inclusive vision requires collaboration across all global stakeholders.”

“We need to apply ethics and human rights-based approaches to every phase in the lifecycle of technology – from design and development by technology companies through to the end use and application by companies across a range of industries,” said Hannah Darnton, Programme Manager, BSR. “Through this paper, we hope to advance the conversation of distributed responsibility and appropriate action across the whole value chain of actors.”

“Here, we can draw from lessons learned from companies’ efforts to implement ‘privacy and security by design,” said Sabrina Ross, Global Head of Marketplace Policy, Uber. “Operationalizing responsible design requires leveraging a shared framework and building it into the right parts of each company’s process, culture and commitments. At Uber, we’ve baked five principles into our product development process so that our marketplace design remains consistent with and accountable to these principles.”

This report is part of the World Economic Forum’s Responsible Development, Deployment and Use of Technology project. It is the first in a series tackling the topic of technology governance. It will help inform the key themes at the Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit in San Francisco in April 2020. The project team will work across industries to produce a more detailed suite of implementation tools for organizations to help companies promote and train their own ‘ethical champions’. The steering committee now in place will codesign the next steps with the project team, building on the input already received from global stakeholders in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.

About the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network

The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network brings together more than 100 governments, businesses, start-ups, international organizations, members of civil society and world-renown experts to co-design and pilot innovative approaches to the policy and governance of technology. Teams in Colombia, China, India, Israel, Japan, UAE and US are creating human-centred and agile policies to be piloted by policy-makers and legislators, shaping the future of emerging technology in ways that maximize their benefits and minimize their risks. More than 40 projects are in progress across six areas: artificial intelligence, autonomous mobility, blockchain, data policy, drones and the internet of things.

The Network helped Rwanda write the world’s first agile aviation regulation for drones and is scaling this up throughout Africa and Asia. It also developed actionable governance toolkits for corporate executives on blockchain and artificial intelligence, co-designed the first-ever Industrial IoT (IIoT) Safety and Security Protocol and created a personal data policy framework with the UAE.

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