70% of jobs in developing markets under threat from AI – report

A new report from the International Bar Association has outlined the risks and rewards of artificial intelligence, which while bordering on scaremongering also makes some good points.

Jamie Davies

April 4, 2017

4 Min Read
70% of jobs in developing markets under threat from AI – report

A new report from the International Bar Association has outlined the risks and rewards of artificial intelligence, which while bordering on scaremongering also makes some good points.

The report highlights there is likely to be a widening gap between the worlds’ richest and poorest nations. Countries like China or Thailand have grown through the last few years partly due to the difference in labour costs. Primary (mining for example) and secondary (manufacturing) industries have been moved offshore because of the cost benefit, though robotization on a mass scale would make this transition redundant.

The report highlights “While one production working hour costs the German automotive industry more than €40, the use of a robot costs between €5 and €8 per hour. A production robot is thus cheaper than a worker in China is. A further aspect is that a robot cannot become ill, have children or go on strike and is not entitled to annual leave.”

This is a very real threat which could lead to mass unemployment, and migration towards more affluent regions of the world. The report deems 70% of employment in countries like India or Thailand under threat, which could very feasibly lead to unprecedented levels of migration.

On the other end of the scale, countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea in Asia, or the Scandinavians in Europe have been working to find digital solutions for complex issues for a long time. Here, only 6% of the population is under threat of unemployment. Elsewhere, in countries like the UK, the cost effectiveness of robots in manufacturing could see such industries return. The basic roles will be performed by the robots themselves, though there will be new jobs created with the return of smart factories.

The education system will also be called into question. This is another highly valid point as it challenges the basic concept of education; smarter is better. With the introduction of more automated workloads, certain roles which are highly valued in today’s society will come under threat. An accountant for instance, could in theory become redundant.

That said, money is the most important factor in today’s world. Humans are unlikely to hand over control of the most important certainty in society at any point in the foreseeable future. AI will become an assistant, however there will be a human element in control for a long-time.

This doesn’t protect manufacturing or artistic crafting jobs however, though one suggestion made by the authors is to create a ‘made by human’ label. In the same way free-range foods or ethically sourced products are marketed today, a ‘made by human’ product range could well capture the interest of certain demographics. But this will only be a diversionary tactic; the transition will continue to role on as it has with cheaper products in the super market today.

What the report doesn’t address is the human element. The tone and approach is typical for a lawyer; its accurate, functional and devoid of emotion or human connection. While artificial intelligence is progressing at an astonishing rate, the development of the technology will not dictate mass market usage, the acceptance of the mass market will.

Over the last couple of months we have seen small incremental introductions of artificial intelligence to the world of technology. Minor examples, such as Facebook’s auto-tagging feature, normalize AI in the eyes of the consumer to such a degree the definition of what AI is becomes blurred. Most people don’t realize AI plays a notable role in their lives already, but this transition will be a lengthy one.

As humans we need someone to blame when something goes wrong, as most of the time we are unable to hold ourselves accountable. Machines do not accept blame or sympathize with consequence however. Can you sue a machine? In countries where litigation is common, this could be a huge point of resistance. Without the ability to place blame, humans would lose an element of control, and quite frankly, not many people would be prepared to do that.

So yes, primary and secondary industries around the world are under threat, but it magnitude of change in human mentality to accept AI in tertiary industries on a fundamental and mass-scale is huge. We’re not there yet.

Lawyers could be placed in a similar bracket to consultants; they find problems and create work for themselves. So yes, eventually tertiary jobs will be handed over to AI, but let’s put the scaremongering into a 2017 perspective; there’s no need to panic just yet.

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