As demonstrated by the alpha dogs of technology — Amazon, Facebook, Google and Uber — technology is changing every sphere of our lives at an eye-popping pace. The long-held fear that computerised systems could edge workers out of their jobs is now a stark reality.
Intelligent systems, as they are often referred to, are getting more “human” or even better in some fields. Surveillance cameras can identify faces from a volley of faces. Some of these systems “hear” and “understand” spoken words. Irrespective of your enunciation, Apple’s Siri, for example, will get you a response just as you would if you were speaking to a human being.
In developed countries, robots are taking over factory jobs. Warehouse robots sort out goods and pack them. They load and unload trucks. Self-driving vehicles will soon take to the highways. Drones are active in numerous fields. They deliver medicines in areas inaccessible by road, help in rescue operations, surveillance and more.
In California for example, robots are ploughing land, planting, spraying, harvesting, packing and delivering the produce to the market.
There is a feast of examples to show how intelligent information systems are taking over nearly all sectors, from transportation to medicine to agriculture.
Smart systems turbocharge production, which in turn drives down prices of goods and services. As a result, countries flourish fast economically. But these job-eating machines lead to massive worker layoffs — and not just for those in the lower rung of the ladder.
What does this portend for poor countries teeming with vibrant but unemployed youth?
Thanks to efficiencies induced by the smart systems, China and USA can now produce goods at a fraction of the price of those manufactured in developing countries. Made-in-China is now the most popular label in homes and offices. As a German proverb aptly says, “honey is never far from the sting”: As consumers may appreciate imported cheaply priced goods, such goods will kill nascent third-world industries. Unable to compete, these industries will close shop, sending home millions of workers.
Here is the point: unless human beings reimagine their role, we will soon be facing unrelenting unemployment headwinds. There will be fewer jobs left for human beings to do. Competition for the diminishing jobs will lower employee bargaining power and instigate a downward spiral of wages.
Artificial intelligence-driven machines — or robots — will supercharge the already economically strong countries but throw poor countries into political, economic and social turmoil.
Job losses will exacerbate the gap between the rich and poor countries, widening the global economic inequality. Poor countries, unable to unshackle themselves from the grip of pinching poverty will stagnate and perpetually depend on aid from western countries.
So, when robots take away your job, what will you be doing?