Science-based innovation is antidote to job losses from automation, say experts

Automation may impact 69% of the jobs in India, 77% in China and 47% in the US, in the next 25 years


Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Bengaluru: With automation gaining momentum and threatening jobs across industries, countries such as India should enable science-based innovation to create the next set of high-profile jobs, industry experts said.

A tectonic shift in technology will not only impact blue-collar jobs but also has the potential to at least partially wipe out human interference in sectors such as healthcare and brokerage, among others, said Ravi Venkatesan, chairman, Bank of Baroda, speaking at the Global Tech Summit held in Bengaluru by Carnegie India.

Automation can impact 69% of the jobs in India, 77% in China and 47% in the US, in the next 25 years, he said, citing research by the World Bank.

“IT industry is unlikely to be the engine of job creation as it was earlier. We have a great number of companies and many of them are innovative. Businesses need to invest in R&D (research and development). Most Indian companies spend less than 2% of revenue in R&D, while those in China and the US spend 10-12%. If countries like ours don’t embrace these (new-age) jobs, we will create low-income service jobs but not high-paying jobs,” he added.

“I’m not worried about the next 10 years because these 10 years will be about how to make the existing jobs more productive through technology,” said Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, managing director, Biocon, speaking on a different panel at the same event, adding that only after this can we begin thinking about jobs of the future.

Automation doesn’t just mean a loss of jobs, but forces a rethinking of the nature of a job, productivity and the dignity of labour, said panellists at the event who included Sharad Sharma, co-founder, software products think tank, iSpirt; Manish Sabharwal, co-founder, TeamLease; Wilfried Aulbur, managing partner at management consulting firm Roland Berger apart from Mazumdar-Shaw.

India needs to make five transitions—from farm to non-farm, rural to urban, subsistence wage employment to decent wage employment, informal enterprises to formal enterprises and school to work (human capital), said Sabharwal.

As the Internet of Things applications and artificial intelligence increasingly percolate into daily life, we need policies that are future-ready, that facilitate innovation without stifling new ideas, according to the experts.

For instance, India has been a battleground for ride-hailing services such as Ola and Uber, which have been confronted by state governments, especially in Karnataka and Maharashtra over regulatory issues.

“There is inertia and lack of clarity on the purpose of regulation. Most regulations have been from experience, and they are often knee-jerk reactions. We need to re-look at things to leverage benefits that technology has to offer,” said Rahul Matthan, partner at law firm Trilegal.

“Today tech companies are saying they have a great business model and they will go with it. A lot of tech companies have the courage to say that their model is good and the regulators will catch up midway,” he added.

Matthan, however, said it is important to have regulations in place as it helps to prevent companies from getting carried away with innovations that might adversely affect people.

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