Robots are coming

Automation: Its impact on economy and lifelong learning the way forward

I am starting to write this post just a day after Tesla unveiled its latest semi-electric Truck which is expected to drive 500 miles on a single charge and deliver a punch to diesel truck manufactures.

Lets get back to our theme on focus — Automation and its impact on world economy. But why is automation across industries giving sleepless nights to policy makers around the world. Is it not in everyone’s interest to improve productivity and achieve more output per the same unit of input?

Well everyone wants to improve productivity but not at the cost of human joblessness.

If one has to take the progress of the mankind from stone age till the 21st century, then one can safely conclude that the last 500 years have been the most productive. This includes the industrial revolution started in Europe. In 1500 the human population was about 500 million and now its 7 billion. The GDP of the world at that time were around $250 billion according to current dollar value which has now reached $60 trillion. This economic development has no doubt been a boon to the mankind and has lifted several people out of poverty.

As the scientific development happened over the last few decades, there was a realisation particularly in the western world that to maintain or increase productivity in a world of declining population it would be imminent to have automation. The trend of automation started in the beginning of the 21st century and has gained speed with each passing day. In the age of globalisation where countries and people are interconnected the trend of automation in factories won’t be limited to western nations.

This is where lies the problem.

1. Fear of joblessness:

Countries in the developing world were late to be touched by development as they were under colonial power for centuries. Finally when they arrived on the world stage with huge population at home roaring for jobs and development, the last thing they would want is automation in factories and job losses. It has started to happen in some countries and could increase over the years.

2. Rise in social unrest :

This could be seen as the next step when lot of people would suddenly find their skills as obsolete and no time to get trained in a new skill. The protests happening around the world by organised cab drivers against Uber spilled into violent protests at several places.

Solution : Lifelong learning and skill development

The rapid progress being made in technology space cannot be reversed and its only going to accelerate. I get the feeling that the total progress done in the first 30–40 years of the 21st century could be several times the progress done by the humanity till the 20th Century. No one knows how to cope with such a scenario of driverless vehicles, worker less factories and person less offices.

The only way-out to handle the rapid progress of automation across industries is to have skill development across the board and continue with life long learning. Its important to go to the next level of task before the old task gets automated.

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