Are We Future Ready-I?

Pallavi Mody

Author: Pallavi Mody

Date: Sun, 2016-09-04 13:26

What is in store for me in the future? The approaches to find the answer range from gazing into the crystal ball to a systematic study of the present and reasonable forecast of the future. In 'The Industries of the Future', Alec Ross (2016) identifies some interesting ideas whose time has come and would reach an inflexion point to drive business, societies and economies in the next 10-20 years. Among the areas identified, I am sharing my thoughts on Robotics and Advanced Life Sciences.

Japanese companies reinvented cars in the 70s, consumer electronics in the 80s and are reinventing families by including Robots as there are not enough children or grandchildren to take care of the ageing parents. Toyota and Honda are leveraging their expertise in mechanical engineering to invent the next generation of robots known as Humanoids. As the name suggests, these robots are multi-purpose home assistants - who can do dishes, clean toilets, take care of parents/children, understand human emotions and conversations and even entertain! What is more interesting is that these Robots are not standalone mechanical devices but would also learn new abilities as they would be networked devices which download (learn) new skills. I am reminded of Aamir Khan’s character from outer space in the movie PK who learnt (downloaded) a language by holding hands for a few hours!

Google’s driverless cars running on trial basis belong to the same genre. Robots replaced factory workers in repetitive jobs in automobile assembly lines a  long time ago but this time around the fear is that the Robots would replace people in services- drivers, waiters in restaurants, airport ground handling staff, cleaning staff in homes/offices/public places… the list could be long and frightening.

It may be music to the ears of the patients and their families to hear the innovation in the area of Advanced Life Science based on mapping of the Human Genome through DNA Sequencing. It would not only identify the errant gene that causes the disease but also makes it possible to harvest the organs for transplant like heart, livers and kidneys from pigs by modifying pig genomes.

With scientific breakthroughs, it would be also possible to produce designer babies. Would people choose desired qualities like fair skin, brown hair and blue eyes in their children? Would people be satisfied with looks alone or ask for programming the mental and emotional make up in the form of desired levels of IQ, EQ & SQ? Genetic mapping would be able to predict the genetic makeup and thereby the future health conditions in a person’s life. Will societies be able to handle the stress of knowing the future health conditions of their near and dear ones? I am once again reminded of the situation similar to Sahdev of Mahabharat who knew the future but could not do anything about it.

The economic returns of innovations in the past 10-20 years have been unevenly distributed between those who were well positioned to create or adapt to the new breakthroughs and those who were left behind. The last wave of innovation and globalization produced winners and losers. One group of winners was the investors, entrepreneurs, and high-skilled labourers that congregated around fast-growing markets and new inventions. Another class of winners was more than 1 billion people from China and India who moved from poverty into the middle class as they could benefit from labor arbitrage. The losers were people who lived in high-cost labour markets like the United States and Europe whose skills could not keep up with the pace of technological change and globalising markets.

Who would be the winners and losers for the next wave of innovations with Robotics? The workers on the shop floor moved from blue collar factory jobs to driving taxis and trucks. Large numbers of immigrants from poor countries drive taxis in US and UK.  With Google’s driverless cars, where do these people go? Most students work in restaurants as their first part time job to pay their tuition fees even in the developed world. If the tables are attended by Humanoids, what is the alternative job avenue for tomorrow’s students? What would happen to the India Story which rests on the concept of demographic dividend and thinks that the young population would lead country into the 21st century?

Probably similar and many more doubts about the future were raised when automation came and manual jobs were lost. But if we look at history, many more new jobs were also created. The next round of innovations would require a new set of skills to be winners. In a free market economy, where innovation is the name of the game, what one can do to be future ready is plain and simple - ‘adapt’.

Perhaps, we would all do well to remember the quote:

‘Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative’ - H.G. Wells (1922)

 

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Hello Mam, A very well scripted blog with lot of insights. The quote ‘Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative’ beautifully describes the state of every individual trying to make a living today. I could have not agreed more and thus have some insights of my own which I would like to share to build on the blog. Humans have always been smart in their quest to find comfort and as a result developed mechanical machines to replace horses for transportation purposes. Come 2017 and we are replacing humans with driver less cars. As mentioned also in the blog, we have faced many economic revolutions in the past and many new jobs have been created, but the million dollar question is, whether robotics revolution is same as the past revolutions. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be! When we think of robots, we think of giant expensive machines working in the assembly line, taking away jobs of low skill workers. But the real danger is with behind the scene small, general purpose & cost effective robots like Baxter. Baxter has the ability to learn on its own just by vision which has a range of 1 meter . Take the example of google cars, they have been here for a time now. The question is not about whether driver less cars will replace humans but about how quickly will they replace. With the advancement of Artificial Learning and evolution of machines like IBM Watson, it’s not only the low skilled jobs but professional, white colored and creative jobs which are in danger as well. I feel technology does not have to be perfect, it just has to be better than humans. Robot revolution is inevitable and humans are going to lose jobs without any fault of their own. It’s just that we are going to be unemployable. Unfortunately in this race we are going to be losers but perceived as winners.

very well written.

Hello Mam, I can think of an alternative quote to conclude this great blogpost – "Change, before you are forced to change." India has always lagged in comparison to western countries, and even the Chinese and Japanese, when it comes to adapting new technology. One could easily argue that India need not worry about humanoids taking over jobs at least for another 2-3 decades. Plus, the complexity of our culture, different languages, traditions, etc. will be nightmarish for robot developers when they look towards India as a potential market. However, considering how quickly the internet has "flattened" the world in last 2 decades, we may not be able to shield ourselves from the invasion of humanoids. Jobs will be lost and consequently workforce will need reallocation, it is inevitable; just as it has happened in the past. Winner will be those nations that prepare themselves for this change. The world will make everyone adapt sooner or later, for a change let’s be at the forefront of this change and be the early adapters. Off course, a full-scale adaption is practically impossible, even a small scale one would be impossible (our demography – Krishna, does not allow us to). But even if a handful of waiters/taxis are replaced by humanoids, it could trigger a new thought process in people’s mind; then we can adopt the technology at our own pace.

I really liked your caption, "Change, before you are forced to change." It says all

I really liked your caption, "Change, before you are forced to change." It says all

When the movie the terminator came out in the 90s, fans were enamored by Arnold’s humanoid character and the concept of robots and artificial intelligence taking over the world. Fast forward 20 years later and that concept seems to be becoming a reality. What has brought about such a change? In my opinion it is due to competition. Every organisation is so focused on reducing cost and boosting productivity that they have turned to automation to given them an edge over everyone. The positive side to this is that a lot of the mundane jobs are taken off our hands. However the downside is that a lot of labour intensive jobs will be lost. It is estimated that by 2021, 4 out of every 10 jobs will be lost to automation. While the article does say that the biggest losers will be western countries such as America and Europe, we can see this effect trickling into countries such as India and China too. Cognizant recently announced a job cut of up to 6000 in its ranks which will affect lower end IT jobs and manufacturing automation has driven china’s robotics spend to $ 59 Billion. India and China will have to seize this opportunity to change and emerge as leaders. The advantage that both these countries have are large populations but our focus on education, advanced degrees and research is very low. There will have to be a change towards a more knowledge, research and innovation based education. The focus on employment in the future could be in areas where humans will really be required. This will cause a shift in development of skills forcing people to adapt to change or run the risk of losing out. At this stage can I say that we are future ready in this country? Not really. We have lagged behind in infrastructure, our science degrees are outdated and we reward firms that copy innovations made abroad so that we can cash in on valuation. This could mean that a competing country could silently make headway while we delay trying to find a footing somewhere. Change is happening and is happening very quickly.

Are we future ready? A question which is in the back of everyone’s head and nobody knows the answer of. Why are we thinking so much into the future even when we know very well that we will not get an absolute answer. I think it has to do with the workings of human brain which tries to find patterns and when it can’t find any tries to predict the possibilities. This method by itself is creating worries as we know it is flawed. Traditional methods will always give way to newer ones if it makes economic sense. Technology with huge human interface will have to face the hurdle of laws and regulations which are pre-existing and will allow for sufficient time to adapt.

Dear Ma’am, I am intrigued by this post containing insights especially on the future of our workforce in this era of disruption. Adoption of robotics, automation and AI will set us on a path of tremendous upheaval of the existing business models, organizational structures and the form of employment opportunities available to future workforces. But as we have seen since time immemorial, innovation has always been the name of the game. Human being is an intelligent animal and has from time to time undergone transformation that has either improved previous issues and/or has led to new leap of faith to advancements that have only substantially upgraded the quality of life. There is a reason why we went from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age and then to Iron Age even during ancient times. We have made significant advancements in scientific research, transportation, manufacturing, media and what not. And what we have undergone is essentially moving higher up the value chain over the years. We are increasingly letting go of labourious and mechanical jobs and going for ones which are based on analytical and more soft skills. With every disruption of older technologies, we have seen creation of newer arenas for job creation. IBM, a company known for hardware as its core business, let go of almost all of it to move into services and consulting sectors in the late 90s and underwent a tremendous turnaround from its sagging fortunes into one reckoned among the leading go to technological services/consulting providers in the world. Recent years has seen these sectors as taking a hit and again we see IBM making moves into AI, Blockchain and cognitive businesses. As Darwin said, mankind is all about the survival of the fittest and this applies very much even till this date. Companies and employees must engage in a perpetual process of continuous improvement by stressing on skills upgradation, innovation and staying ahead of the curve or else they will risk getting overtaken by the ones that adapt better to ever changing scenarios. In this advent of the rise of robots and AI, instead of worrying about job security, we need to focus on taking up newer skills in upcoming technologies and growth areas like analytics, big data, cloud, machine learning, blockchain and thus make ourselves future ready. There’s already ample resources available for us to improve ourselves and it’s high time we take up the initiative to do so. At the same time, one must also note that throughout all these transformations that we have had over the years, jobs may have been lost but we also saw huge number of newer jobs being created, newer skillsets being in demand and many new companies engaging in massive wealth creation for their owners, employees and countries or regions where these were based. Menial jobs like drivers, waiters will be taken up by robots but that doesn’t mean that a large part of our workforce will end up being unemployed forever, they will just move into newer roles. Technology always captures one phenomenon and creates scope for newer phenomenon available for capture with more powerful tools.

Today, we are in the era where technology will take over all the human efforts and make our life completely different. It would be amazing to see robots serving in the restaurants, driver-less cars running on the streets, harvesting of vital human organs and lot more. Robotics is a really a booming technology in today’s world. There’s an extended version of robotics which will have a huge impact on the human race. And yes, those days are not too far when we will be completely dependent on them! The intensive researches and experiments in the field of robotics have created a very futuristic version of robots called ‘Nanobots’. These nanobots will neither be visible to us nor will they require any maintenance. So where will they be working in? The answer is - right inside your brain and nervous system. Yes, we will be able to utilize these nanobots for a virtual reality experience. In future, we may not require any computer, tabs or mobile phones for the tasks they perform today. We will be able to browse on internet, call a friend, or can have a video call just without any physical instrument and everything will be done by our brain itself in a virtual manner. Sounds too mythological but that’s the future! We all go to many tourists’ places. How about going to space? Sounds illogical, but yes that’s the future too. There are companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX who are really working on this concept. People will be able to travel in the space, like they travel to different places on earth. But yes, the initial days of this technology of tourism will be affordable only by millionaires. So most of us might have to wait for it!

Today, we are in the era where technology will take over all the human efforts and make our life completely different. It would be amazing to see robots serving in the restaurants, driver-less cars running on the streets, harvesting of vital human organs and lot more. Robotics is a really a booming technology in today’s world. There’s an extended version of robotics which will have a huge impact on the human race. And yes, those days are not too far when we will be completely dependent on them! The intensive researches and experiments in the field of robotics have created a very futuristic version of robots called ‘Nanobots’. These nanobots will neither be visible to us nor will they require any maintenance. So where will they be working in? The answer is - right inside your brain and nervous system. Yes, we will be able to utilize these nanobots for a virtual reality experience. In future, we may not require any computer, tabs or mobile phones for the tasks they perform today. We will be able to browse on internet, call a friend, or can have a video call just without any physical instrument and everything will be done by our brain itself in a virtual manner. Sounds too mythological but that’s the future! We all go to many tourists’ places. How about going to space? Sounds illogical, but yes that’s the future too. There are companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX who are really working on this concept. People will be able to travel in the space, like they travel to different places on earth. But yes, the initial days of this technology of tourism will be affordable only by millionaires. So most of us might have to wait for it!

Dear Ma’am, that is a really inspiring article – a question on the peaceful co-existence of humanity, technology and economy. We are living in a world we feared when computers came up, but I believe we are doing fine. Here we have again come to a situation where we are talking about robots replacing us in household chores and robots which are speculated to snatch jobs from the common man. If we contemplate the past, the idea of ‘common man’ has come a long way since then. With the shift in technology, a lateral shift in the society is bound to happen. With more and more people getting education and many moving to higher education, I am certain, we are looking as a different future. We have seen changes in economic policies taking place with the shift in industries which could accommodate the population. We are looking at driverless cars and robots as good as humans coming up. From economical point of view, these can lead to creation of jobs in different sectors like, manufacturing of these robots, their maintenance and further innovations. However, from humanity point of view, there may be ethical issues in launch of such devices. We cannot comment on the EQ shift that would take place in the society and are we ready to invest in such a risk? Talking about the innovations in the medical field, the genetic technology has a lot of risks associated with the probabilistic selection of specific characteristics. Because of which, there have always been ethical barriers in cloning of human beings. Custom made human babies will come with the downside of the errors in genetic combination which I believe is a risk we would not want to take in future. We are looking at a lot of possibilities in innovations I future, but how much can we accommodate in reality and how much impact our economy can stand on this regard still poses the biggest question.

Indeed this article brings out beautifully the challenges we are going to face as we move towards Artificial Intelligence (AI). I completely agree that with every advancement in technology and automation many jobs were lost, however, even more were created through innovation. But how this time it will be different? As pointed out in the article, robots are taking care of elderlies and children. Cars are becoming driver-less. Robots are serving in restaurants. With technology, it is even possible to modify human genome though DNA Sequencing. Google AI is now learning itself. Machines are good at working on simple and repeated task. But how machines perform complex task? They breakdown a complex task into simple one and then execute each simple task one by one. Using the same concept, machine can execute a job done by a human through breakdown process. So, Is it possible that artificial intelligence though self-learning, one day can replace human? I believe, yes. I want to imagine how this world would be if machines are working in office and factory instead of humans. Some curious thoughts come to my mind – Will it be good for us? What are we going to do by the way? How we can consume if we don’t work? And who will pay us? History tells us that with every technological advancement from stone age to information age, human life has become more comfortable and the jobs have changed from ‘menial’ to ‘skilful’. Tread will continue, and with robots, human life will get further comfortable. At present, human build robots which help them in various fields. But in future, robots will produce robots and thus all jobs will be eaten up by machines. In such a situation, a new economic system will take birth. To consume goods all human will get equal amount of money from world government. A system of Universal Basic Income (UBI) would be followed, thus eliminating poverty and inequality from society. There would be enough supply produced by robots to meet the demand. Human life would be lifted up for higher purpose.

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