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Joshin Raghubar: Humans are losing their jobs to machines


Old rules just have to go when technology starts a different game

Humans are losing their jobs to machines, so creativity and forethought are needed to prepare for our new roles, writes Joshin Raghubar (Class 3 Fellow – Khalipa and a member of the ALI SA board.)

Stakeholders in a state — government, business, civil society — should have one goal: to grow and sustain a resilient, generative society with a high quality of life for its people. To this end, a growing economy, by extension with increasing employment, has been the normative mechanism for upward human development. This development mechanism has come to constitute our identity and meaning inasmuch as work and productivity is related to income and security.

These were the old rules. Swipe left. Our leaders — business, political, and civil society — need to become creators of new, meaningful spaces that help us reorientate ourselves in this changing world. Globalisation, markets and advanced technologies are powering the shift from postindustrialisation to postwork. We are in the age of machines and more work will increasingly be done by fewer people. The World Economic Forum dubbed this the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is conceivable that the time will soon arrive where our human productivity will be unhooked from labour, work and wages. As more forms of labour, capital and property become commodified and fungible, a great energy continues to be unleashed in the market that has powered global economic growth over the past 150 years. This process has accelerated with new technologies. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb have allowed more “property” to enter the market: your underused car and the latent potential of your extra bedroom. This has allowed many to reap economic benefits.

However, there is a countertrend: labour is being removed from the market. It won’t be long before driverless cars render Uber drivers obsolete. The dawn of technologies such as 3D printing, the internet of things, cloud computing, big data analytics, blockchain, robotics and artificial intelligence are accelerating the trend already set by automation: the paths of economic growth and labour absorption have diverged. The forces of globalisation dictate that SA will not be exempt. Our future may also be jobless.

Increased Automation

This trend set by automation has long been evident in manufacturing. Manufacturing output in the US has grown more than 200% over the past 40 years, while manufacturing jobs have decreased by more than 40%. While part of this drop is due to jobs being sent offshore — president-elect Donald Trump blames China and Mexico — most of it is a direct result of increased automation and disruptive technologies. The picture is similar in the UK, Germany, Japan and Canada.

As wages rise in China, Chinese companies are also investing heavily in a robot workforce: in 2016, Foxconn, a major supplier to both Apple and Samsung, reported it had replaced 60,000 workers with robots.

In SA, manufacturing’s contribution to the economy decreased from 20% in 1990 to 13% in 2014. Even if we can reboot our manufacturing sector and create a cohort of new industrialists, it will not create jobs at scale.

South Africans already experience a jobless environment. Most of the 800,000 matriculants of 2016 will struggle to find work, and many will give up looking. Some are not equipped even to try.

With decreasing low-skilled work opportunities, even a strong-growth economy will fail to absorb most of them into the workforce.

It used to be the prevailing wisdom that as low-value jobs are shipped offshore or replaced by technology, higher-value jobs are created, ensuring that economic output and labour absorption continue to grow in tandem. This may not be true anymore.

Read more the full article…

Source: Business Day.

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