Will Robots Make Our Jobs Obsolete?

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

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Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics are taking over jobs that are repetitive, predictable and sometimes dangerous for people to do. The impact of automation on society depends on how fast it occurs—and how quickly displaced workers transition to other forms of employment.

“What most people don’t realize is the labor market has always evolved over time. Recent advances in artificial intelligence have the potential to accelerate the rate of change,” says Jerry Kaplan, futurist and author of the book “Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

“There will be plenty of work,” he adds. “Many jobs cannot be automated with new technology. As we become wealthier, the demand for jobs increases as people spend more money.”

A 2013 study estimates that computerization puts 47% of total U.S. employment at risk. A survey by the World Economic Forum earlier this year estimates that automation will cause a net loss of more than five million jobs globally between 2015 and 2020, out of the 13.5 million the surveyed companies currently employ. A canvassing of experts by the Pew Research Center found that about 48% expect significant displacement of workers from automation by 2025, with the other 52% expecting that technology creates more jobs than it displaces.

“My view is that there is ultimately going to be less work,” says Martin Ford, futurist and author of the book “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.”

A lot of jobs—maybe half the jobs out there—are doing things that are predictable,“ Ford adds. “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or even the skill level.”

A radiologist must go through years of extensive schooling, but mostly does routine work that increasingly is being aided by computers, he says. Software can generate news stories and can translate spoken language in real time.

Machines are taking on cognitive capability,” he says. “Machine learning can figure things out. It’s really disruptive. Especially deep learning. It’s just amazing.”

CyborgHowever, many of the jobs ripe for automation are low-skilled jobs, from driving to coffee-making to burger-flipping, Mr. Ford says, perhaps not entirely replacing them but greatly reducing their number.

“Technology will create jobs, but will the person driving a taxi be able to do that job? In many cases, the answer will be no,” he says.

Retraining programs and geographic mobility will be key to helping people whose work has become obsolete to change professions, Mr. Kaplan says, adding, “We need to align our social policies with the economic realities.”

These changes have happened before. Forty or 50 years ago, more than a million people, mostly women, worked as telephone operators; today, that occupation employs less than one-twentieth of that number. “Do we lament the loss of those jobs?” Mr. Kaplan asks.

New jobs will arise as we create new wants and needs that we can’t even imagine now, Mr. Kaplan says.

“Historically, average U.S. household income doubles every 40 years, but our desires and expectations for our standard of living rise at the same rate,” he says. “If you wanted to live like somebody in 1900 you could probably be fine working 15 hours a week. Today most people would like to have a TV and indoor plumbing, so we work longer and harder to increase our standard of living. It’s more about our expectations and desires than some hard-and-fast rule of economics.”

Robot human hand connectionThe World Economic Forum’s survey of employers found the greatest expectation for demand in computer and mathematical jobs, with a 3.21% compound annual growth rate from 2015 to 2020, followed by architecture and engineering, with 2.71% expected growth. Office and administrative jobs, however, are expected to contract 4.91%, worse than the 1.63% decline in manufacturing and production employment, among respondents. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) looks by country at the percentage of jobs with high potential for automation or significant change in tasks.

Automation is here to stay. “It’s integral to capitalism,” Mr. Ford says. “There’s this huge incentive to become more efficient. If your competitors do it, you do the same thing or you’re quickly going to be irrelevant. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the biggest things happening right now, and pretty soon all companies will have to incorporate them.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Mobile data needs to get this much cheaper before most of the world can afford it

By Alyssa
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By: Joon Ian Wong

 

Cloud computing and wireless communications are illustrated by streaks of colored lights flowing through a high altitude cloud cover.

Most of the world can’t afford mobile data at current prices. About 43% of the world’s population can afford 500 MB of mobile data a month right now. In order to double that number, data costs have to fall by 70% globally, according to a new study by Strategy&, a unit of the consulting firm PwC.

Here’s what that looks like charted in 14 countries:

The study, conducted for Facebook’s controversial Internet.org initiative, which aims to provide internet access to currently unconnected populations, defines “affordable” as a prepaid data plan that allows up to 500 MB of use a month, and costing 5% or less of a person’s gross monthly income. Even those assumptions may be conservative. The average user in a rich country uses 630 MB of data a month, and that figure is kept low because of widespread availability of wifi networks, some of which are free. If WiFi use is taken into account, rich-country users eat up 2 GB of data monthly, according to the report.

What does 500MB of data get you? Every day, 800 plain-text emails, or 17 web pages, or eight minutes of video, according to a global study on internet connectivity published by Internet.org in February.

The problem isn’t going away any time soon. Unlike the rich world, many emerging markets don’t have an infrastructure of wifi networks. If emerging market users behaved like their counterparts in wealthy markets, their mobile data consumption would also be as much as 2 GB, but would cost them considerably more given the lack of free wifi.

The solution, according to the report, is not rolling out more high-bandwidth mobile networks. That’s unlikely to work out economically. Instead, the authors advocate for quasi-public high-speed wifi points where users can periodically go to download data-heavy content, like videos.

YouTube’s smartphone apps in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia already have a feature that allows users to store and play back videos, even if their phones are offline. In Nigeria, a company called Kiora operates “content zones,” essentially a WiFi hotspot, where customers can download data-intensive content like movies.

The “content zone” example is just one way in which the internet of the future will develop quite differently for the next billion users. As the authors note: “The changes that will connect billions of the poorest to the Internet will also reshape it … as the global center of economic activity shifts to the South and to the East, so too will the norms that govern Internet usage.”

 

To discuss this and other topics about the future of technology, finance, life sciences and more, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Closing the Digital Divide

By Alyssa
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According to a recent study by the World Bank, only 19.2% of the people in sub-Saharan Africa and 16.6% of residents of South Asia have internet access, compared with nearly 80% of those in Europe. This dramatic gap is often referred to as the “Digital Divide,” putting developing countries at a distinct disadvantage for economic growth, social mobility and citizen engagement.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Can Low-Earth-orbit satellites succeed in beaming affordable #internet everywhere? #3DSCompass http://bit.ly/CloDigDiv

Now, however, thanks to advances in technology and the efforts of entrepreneurial risk takers, a number of firms are racing to launch advanced satellite systems that promise to bring broadband internet access – even multichannel video streaming – to parts of the world that still lack such basics as around-the-clock electricity and landline telephones.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: If you provide Wi-Fi access to a lemonade vendor in Africa, can it transform his business? #3DSCompass http://bit.ly/CloDigDiv

A article in the most recent issue of Compass magazine explores several different projects that aim to bridge the digital divide.  These include including OneWeb which plans to ring the Earth with a chain of 648 small satellites that can transmit to simple terminals anywhere on the planet and CMMB Vision, which aims to provide audio, video and internet services at little or no cost in China, India and the Southeast Asia countries.  It also covers Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative and Google’s Project Loon.  What will such projects mean for citizens, business and government if Internet access becomes more widespread? Come discover more about these innovative projects that aim to provide digital access to every corner of the world.



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