Automation may lead to huge job loss

Studies about what cataclysmic changes automation will bring about in all fields of human activity in the near future should engage the attention of governments, decision makers, leaders and even ordinary people. The possible scenarios being projected may look like science fiction. But the trends which are seen now and their fast pace indicate that there may be more reality than imagination in the accounts.

Automation in this context means the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data manipulation to improve productivity and efficiency. It is set to bring about a revolution in the economy, mainly with respect to employment.

Leading consulting firm McKinsey has said that 50% of the existing jobs in the world will disappear by 2035. It says there are 800 categories of jobs in the world out of which 30% can at present be done by machines. Most routine jobs may be done by robots in the next two years in some places. A report presented at the recent World Economic Forum meet at Davos also pointed to these impending changes. For example, it said that 90% of vehicles will be self-driving electric vehicles by 2035, which will make drivers’ jobs mostly redundant. Almost all occupations will be affected and only those jobs that need extraordinary skills, intelligence and creativity will be done by human beings. Even if these projections are taken with a pinch of salt, there is a need for the world to be prepared to face the prospect of massive joblessness in the coming decades. Formulating strategies to deal with the situation is especially important for countries like India which, even now, find it difficult to explore jobs for its youth. India’s demographic dividend might then turn out to be a debilitating burden. It is middle and lower level jobs, which are the most numerous, that may be axed.

The right response should first be to accept the possibility of change and try not to deny and resist it. The lessons from fighting tractors and computers when they made their appearance should be relevant here. Economic and social policies should be tailored to the new needs. Education and development of the skill sets suitable for the new age should get priority. Politics and governance should follow suit. All these might change beyond recognition. It should be realised that the future is rushing towards us at a speed never seen before. Many countries, including India, have found themselves left out when they could not keep peace with monumental changes in the past. History should not be allowed to repeat itself. Every challenge has many opportunities in it.

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