Just
around 2 years back when Donald Trump was campaigning for the 45th President
of USA, the buzzing topic of the discussion was “China is taking all our jobs”.
Now, this has been replaced by the cries of automation and Artificial
Intelligence. “Are Machines are coming for our jobs” is the typical mystery
that everyone seeks to unravel.

Automation
is one global force that will transform economies and workforce.
Currently, the condition of robots is so advanced that right from
construction to cooking, robots have become proficient in all kind of
activities. Artificial Intelligence has become versatile enough that basic
accounting, investment-banking, HR tasks have been automated. But, automation
is highly capital intensive and unaffordable to the developing
nations. So, the poorer nations count heavily on
their low-cost labour for their economy. For these nations to embrace
automation with open arms at the cost of low-cost labour, it will
take decades. In the shorter run, low-cost labour is much more
economically practical than automation.

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Before we
jump on to the conclusion, let’s look at how the industries have evolved within
the span of 200 odd years. The first industrial revolution took place in
England in the year 1784 based on the mass production techniques driven by
water and steam power. Following a similar trend, Industry 2.0 took place where
electricity reached the production houses transforming the mass production and
improving the lives of billions of people. Thus, providing job to the masses.
The fear of job losses became live when electronics and Information Technology
knocked the door. The integration of softwares with the
manufacturing led to the growth of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems
and enhanced the supply chain management. In parts of the world, Industry 3.0
was not welcomed. Indian leaders were vocal about IT and were afraid that these
may lead to unemployment. But rather, IT had exponentially contributed to
enhancing India’s GDP and added millions of jobs in the organised sector.
IT/BPO employs a humongous 10.36 lakh jobs in India.

With the
advent of Industry 4.0, the focus will shift to digitizing the industries.
The key harbingers of change will the technologies like the Internet of Things
(IoT), Blockchain, Additive Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence and
Data Analytics. Data will also play a vital role in the future. A Deloitte study
of automation in the U.K. found
that 800,000 low-skilled jobs were eliminated as the result of automation. The
wonderful news is 3.5 million new jobs were generated as well, and
those jobs paid on average nearly $13,000 more per year than the ones that were
lost. It is true that technology will change the way the world works. But the
theory that automation will result in chaos and joblessness in the economy is
hard to digest.

Although
automation is capital intensive, but in the long run it is still
cheaper than low-cost labours. Automation consists of just
one-time system costs
and marginal operational expense whereas manual labours
consist of continuous operational expenses. The twist comes when organisations
realise that with labours other costs like periodic training, quality,
repeatability, insurance, injury, strike etc also occurs. Thus, the cost of
labour becomes highly expensive and labour usage becomes inconvenient.

In the
developing nations like India and China, there has been a long political
resistance about the increase of wages and stringent laws are
being made in its favour. The increasing minimum wages have been exposing
the labourers to the risk of automation. On the contrary, automation costs are significantly decreasing.
According to CMIE data, Indian manufacturing’s share of employment as
a percentage of people employed in enterprises has slipped from 24 per
cent in 1997-98 to 22 per cent in 2011-12. Shripad Ranade,
Engineering & Infrastructure at TATA Strategic Management Group,
says that robot density for the automotive sector in India was at 27-29 per
10,000 employees in 2013 and has grown to 30-35 now. In the near future, this
trend is expected to continue and loss of human employment will result in the
gain of automation.

Apart
from the bane, automation has given humanity new hopes and promised to make the
world better. In India, the social inequalities are still prevalent. One such
case is the workers involved in manual scavenging. Popularly known as
“safai karmchari”, these people are made to manually pick human
waste and clean toilet chambers resulting exposing them to hazardous diseases.
They have become so socially isolated that they have been given the status of
untouchables among untouchables.

There are
many numerous life-threatening jobs that automation is capable of
eliminating. There exist a lot of security jobs in the world which are
challenging and results in great life loss and capital. Consider
the Indo-Pakistan border at Kashmir. The region has been notoriously
known for the death of soldiers in the hands of militants. Between 1989 and
2002, 4600 security personnel have been killed by the militants
in Kashmir. These killings can be avoided if they are
replaced by bots. Recently, Dubai Police have deployed their first robot
officer on the streets of Dubai giving it the task of patrolling the
city’s malls and tourist attractions. Automation has drastically improved the
safety standards of billions of work force in the world and will continue to do
so in the future.

It is
agreed across the globe that automation is increasing productivity,
improving lives of billions and reshaping our world. But the question remains
intact, what happens to the jobs of low-cost unskilled labours. Automation
would definitely generate job in other domains, in areas that don’t exist
today. According to a McKinsey analysis, it could raise global productivity by
as much as 0.8% to 1.4% annually. This would result in generation
of wealth as well as rising incomes and consumption pattern. It would lead
to social uplifting as well as the rise of living standards of the poor and
middle-class people in the developing countries resulting in the creation
of jobs in healthcare, sanitation and education sector. A big chunk of
money will be pumped into infrastructure, clean energy and
agriculture which would offset the joblessness of the workers. In short to
medium term, developing economies have little or no fear of being displaced. In
the long term, there will be highly mobile occupational shifts where
workers would have to adapt themselves to skilled jobs leaving manufacturing,
construction or agriculture. As per a report by McKinsey, 75 million to
375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will be
required to change to the different job profile.

Due to
this turbulence caused by Industry 4.0, there will be rising income disparities
in the society. The income of high-wage workers would grow due to their
increasing demand while on the contrary; the demand of low-cost labours will
decline to generate deep income polarities in the economy. The
social, political and economic impact of the rising income disparities is
dreadful. This could lead to instabilities in the economy and the politics across
the globe.

There are
potential risks that Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning will
quash rather than benefit humanity. The threat is that workers will become
slaves in the hands of robots. Machine Learning has made machines smarter and
capable to take suitable decisions, this has made mankind vulnerable
to a robotic apocalypse.  Many well-known scientists and
businessperson have expressed their anxiety on the rise of clever machines. The
well known British scientist Stephen Hawking in an interview with BBC said “The
development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human
race.”

The
tragic incident that happened with Facebook after which they shut
down their Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) has proven that AI
and Machine learning are mankind’s biggest existential challenges. The bizarre
incident of two bots chatting in a strange language which was not interpreted
by humans have further strengthened the claims by some leaders to go back to
the conventional labour extensive work shutting down AI research.

Robots
are fast & precise while humans are flexible & dependable. Automation
will definitely impact the employment scenario of the world. The existing jobs
will be done and dusted while a transformation into other occupational jobs is
inevitable. Now, the question arises, how to cope up with this debacle.
Humanity needs to be prepared for this. Skill
development should be given the utmost importance for this employment
crisis. The curriculum needs to be revised to take care of the latest
technologies.

A small
Scandinavian country of Finland has adopted the trial measure of paying
Universal Basic Income (UBI) to unemployed citizens aged between 25 to 58. Mark
Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bernie Sanders are strong proponents
of UBI and have advocated its use to curb the joblessness from automation. This
solution is most thought out for the people in the west. Due to their developed
economies, these countries have a very narrow chance of exploring new areas of
employment. Thus, UBI becomes a necessity for them.

Keeping
the dangers aside, automation can yield substantial opportunities for the
future if used wisely and effectively. There is an opportunity to relieve
humans from repetitive, hazardous, and unpleasant labour in all forms and
eliminate all kinds of undesired low-cost labour. And there is an opportunity
for future automation technologies to provide a growing social and economic
environment in which not even higher class but low-class labours can enjoy a
higher standard of living.