Bengaluru: In the age of driverless cars, what does the future of jobs look like?

Former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan illustrated this point by talking about his current job, as a professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Am I going to be out of job? To an extent, yes," said Rajan, but only at a time when super star robots teach. He was giving a talk on technology impacting jobs in a Kerala government organised summit in Kochi on Friday. Many routine and skilled jobs are disappearing due to advances in robotics and automation.

“This hollowing-out of middle class jobs has been a very big factor in the kind of anxiety you see in industrial countries today, which reflects in the populist movements we see today and which reflects in the anti-trade movements we see today," said Rajan.

“What we see now, with advances in artificial intelligence in robotics, machine learning, is that this is going to change further. Even jobs that are required perception and manipulation that was immune to threats by machines, for example sewing garments... now increasingly machines can do that."

He pointed out how National Health Service in the UK is already using data for medical analysis in some cases that would otherwise be done by the doctors. The pace of change, however, may be slower than expected, Rajan said, owing to various factors including that of conservative organisations not willing to adapt to changes, political resistance and preference for human interface.

“There is a huge amount of hype with technology. We always think the future is going to come faster than it does," he said. In short, Rajan said, driverless cars will come, but they will have to reassure that they can drive it in Delhi’s Daryaganj.

“India has fewer jobs to lose because many still don’t have those cushy jobs which are now under threat," Rajan said, adding this also throws up an opportunity to create jobs that will be less under threat, in a separate interaction with the media on the sidelines of the talk.

Since changes are inevitable, people need to be helped in adapting to them, Rajan said.

This would mean leaving work like farming, which employs almost half of the population but essentially get lower incomes than the rest of the country, to industry and services where incomes and productivity are much higher.

Same goes for India’s export-led cheap manufacturing, which every developing country followed, but is under threat from flexible manufacturing and robotics, said Rajan.

“I still think there is space (in export-led growth). We should be seizing that space, but we shouldn’t be losing out other spaces, for example tech startups, to other countries," said Rajan.

But just how does the government intervene?

“The gig economy (in India) is an interesting way to try and isolate what essentially customers want; so we have to be very careful about intervening too quickly in it. But certainly in places where we see abuse of employees and so on, it may be useful to see what is needed," Rajan said.

Rajan said the ongoing Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is an interesting case on this point.

“I think the debate over Facebook that is going on right now is about what aspects does the public needs to be protected from. Do they need to know who is sending the messages? What messages are they receiving? And are they liable to be fooled? If so, what sort of constraints need to be taken," he said.

Is the lack of constraints why Rajan keeps himself away from the social media? “To each their own poison... I just don’t have time."

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