Data science

Automation May Pose A Threat To A Developing Country Like India

The threats posed by automation in developing countries like India
Market volatility and rising protectionism in countries like the USA, where much of India’s IT outsourcing work comes from, saw Cognizant’s revenue grow at its slowest pace in two decades last year, and its peers in the Indian IT industry are in the same boat. Since the 1990s Indian firms have carried out back-office tasks, and IT services like data entry, running call centers, and testing software for foreign companies at cut-price rates by throwing cheap labor at them. But as machines become adept at this repetitive, rule-based work, the low-skill jobs – where the bulk of Indian IT workers are employed – are the most at risk. “It’s been happening for the last two or three years in an accelerated fashion,” says Gopinathan Padmanabhan, head of innovation at IT company Mphasis. “It’s a reality you can’t shy away from.” This shift will go hand-in-hand with new opportunities in emerging areas – data science, artificial intelligence, and big data – but these will require new skills and probably fewer employees. “They will have to find new roles and train themselves to become relevant in the new age,” says Padmanabhan. “And we’re not talking about too far into the future… the next three to five years.” Of course, losing jobs to automation is a concern across the developed world. But India’s case is unique.

WASHINGTON: Automation threatens 69 percent of the jobs in India, while 77 percent in China, according to World Bank research which has said that technology could fundamentally disrupt the pattern of the traditional economic path in developing countries. “As we continue to encourage more investment in infrastructure to promote growth, we also have to think about the kinds of infrastructure that countries will need in the economy of the future. We all know that technology has and will need in the economy of the future. We all know that technology has and will continue to fundamentally reshape the world,” World Bank President Jim Kim said. “But the traditional economic path from increasing productivity of agriculture to light manufacturing and then to full-scale industrialization may not be possible for all developing countries,” Kim said in response to a question at the Brookings Institute during a discussion on extreme poverty yesterday. “In large parts of Africa, it is likely that technology could fundamentally disrupt this pattern. Research-based on World Bank data has predicted that the proportion of jobs threatened in India by automation is 69 percent, in China it is 77 percent and in Ethiopia, the percentage of jobs threatened by automation is 85 percent,” he said.

The jobs that India is targeting through foreign direct investment are primarily those that can be offshored or outsourced. But it is this same set of jobs that is repeatable and programmable, and hence most vulnerable to automation. In India, several studies show our impressive growth since liberalization has not been accompanied by the expected growth in employment. While this may not be due to automation alone, it is clear a combination of capital investment in technology and the casualization of labor is stunting the growth of labor in the organized sector. Ford also points out the irony that the average capitalist would prefer a pliable robot to an idiosyncratic human being.

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