By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
Everyday tucked away between pages of your newspaper are indications of the future. A somewhat innocuous and even cute version of the future when viewed in isolation. “Rise of the machines as ANZ brings in robot workers to do the ‘boring’ jobs” says this one.
“ANZ has spent the past year refining a well-developed program of work in an emerging field known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), whereby tasks previously conducted by employees are now done by increasingly intelligent software that learns on the job.”
Information technology is now becoming a bit like electricity. It is no longer a competitive advantage. Competitive advantage comes from what you choose to do with it. The new age companies are leveraging the power of IT to create unprecedented wealth, but not employment.
The ten most highly valued unicorns together are worth $156 billion but employ less than 20,000 employees between them.
Per Employee Valuation – the new status symbol
Per employee valuation is the new status symbol the unicorns want to flaunt. WhatsApp had 55 employees when Facebook bought it out for $19 billion making it a whopping $345 million per employee.
Very clearly routine jobs are disappearing. Thanks to mechanization of farming, only 2% of the US workforce is employed now in farming and there is enough to export. Where have the rest gone? They have moved to other jobs that came up in factories. Robots are becoming cheaper and more commonplace.
When trade unions resisted computerization, they were assured that computerization would create more jobs – only with different skill requirements. Education has been the answer for people to move from the blue collar workforce to a white collared job. Robots are now coming after the white collared jobs too. Books like The Rise of The Robots by Martin Ford document an increasingly bleak future. When information technology is combined with easily accessible machine intelligence is that new industries that come up will never be labor intensive.
If after every recession, the recovery is not accompanied by a similar recovery of employment. When people stay out of employment for more than six months, their chances of getting re-employed drops. Jobless recoveries are becoming the norm. To survive, the organizations will not have much choice but to keep leveraging technology to do more with less. Where will employment come from?
India has to stop believing in the myth of the “demographic dividend” given the rise in employability of our youth. Educational institutions are not changing fast enough. Technology changes the sources of competitive advantage. With 3D printing, the value may not lie any more in the product being printed freely. The value may lie in design. The Make in India campaign will need to be supplemented with strong branding campaigns that create perceptions of quality in the eyes of the buyer. Branding is just the truth but told well.
Already the robots have proved to be more effective than lawyers, radiologists and journalists. Yes, algorithms are already writing articles for publications like Forbes and we cannot tell the difference. Wired magazine predicted that 90% of news articles will be written by computers by 2025.
The future workplace
The knowledge worker will get replaced progressively by robots. Being able to understand the range of human emotions and the ability to build deep meaningful relations with others may be the biggest skills we can train our progeny for. Women it seems may have an advantage in future in the world of work which will be driven largely by emotions. Maybe we are underrating humans after all.
The future is less about robots and more about being human. That may hold the key for India’s demographic dividend. Do you agree?