Monday, February 19, 2018

Reimagining Malaysia Part 9: Thriving in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

“In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.”  
- Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum-

The world that we are living in is changing so fast. General Electric’s Discussion Paper in 2014, “The Future of Work”, estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary education today will end up in new job types that don’t exist today[1]. McLeod, Scott and Karl Fisch estimated that with the current rate of technological change, nearly 50 percent of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree could become outdated by the third year of study[2].


Human being is now entering into the fourth industrial revolution with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, big data, the Internet of things (IoTs), 3D printing, nanotechnology and others set to revolutionize our near future. Technology is displacing jobs in an unprecedented manner. In May 2016, BBC reported that Foxconn, iPhone’s manufacturer in China, had automated 60,000 jobs in one of its factories [3]. This was just the early phase of the automation plan and Foxconn is only one of the many firms who are moving in that direction.

Machines have been replacing human labour since the industrial revolution but with the help of the exponential growth of computational power as well as the rise of AI and machine learning, the rate of job displacement is accelerating. 

We are at the brink of a time when robots will replace not only blue-collar labour jobs. With the advancement of AI, white-collar jobs, which we believed only human beings could do, appear to be next. Since IBM’s computer, nicknamed Deep Blue, beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov, machines have been slowly but surely beating the best humans at most games that require human intellect, including Scrabble, Othello and even Jeopardy! [4]. In 2016, Google’s DeepMind system, nicknamed AlphaGo, destroyed the last line of defence of human intellect, claiming victory over the reigning champion Fan Hui in Go, a 2,500 year-old game that requires a great deal of strategy and intuition, i.e. human intelligence [4].

With machines being able to beat the best of humans in intelligence-intensive games, it is not difficult to believe that AI will one day replace, fully or partially, the once complex professions such as doctors[5], lawyers[6] and stock traders[7]. How will the job landscape for our youths look like in the near future? No one has a definite answer. In fact, think about our world just a decade ago – Facebook was in its infancy and not many people had a smart phone; jobs like social media manager, social media influencer, Uber driver, app developer, drone operator, cloud computing scientist and big data analyst did not exist.

The job landscape is changing so fast in the era of the fourth industrial revolution that to we must work quickly to incentivise and catalyse more youths to develop their careers or start their businesses in the related fields such as AI, IoTs, FinTech or cryptocurrency. Having said that, since technology is changing so fast, eventually the most important skills that the youths must be trained are the abilities to learn and adapt to new environment quickly as well as to innovate.

Furthermore, it is not only the “geek” economy, which is often used to define fourth industrial revolution, the youths can be involved and developed their career in. I would like to discuss here the other non-geek economies, which have good potential to grow in the near future.

Care Economy

When we are preparing for job displacement (even white-collar jobs) that will take place when robots become more intelligent in the next decade, we need to ask this question, how can humans compete with intelligent machines? One of the more straightforward answers is by simply being human

Human beings have “warmth” and empathy that cannot be replaced by robots. Caregiving jobs such as teachers, nurses, social workers, childcare, aged care and related caring professions in health and education industries are unlikely to be replaced by robots anytime soon.

Deloitte studied the issue of technological job displacement with the help of the UK’s census data from 1871 to 2011[8]. It found that technologies have displaced many jobs that require muscle power but the number of caring professions had risen during the same period - the total share of employment for muscle-powered professions shrunk from 23.7% in 1871 to only 8.3% in 2011 whereas the total share of employment for caring professions grew significantly from 1.1% in 1871 to 12.2% in 2011.

While technology has the ability to displace brain-powered jobs just as it did to muscle-powered jobs, it still cannot fulfill a human being’s need for relationships and personal touch. Because of this, caring professions are here to stay and as society gets richer (and older), more of such jobs will be created. The same goes to coaching professions.

Leisure Economy

What other types of new jobs will be created with increased robot intelligence? While we can’t be sure what the spillover effects across the associated industries will be, one thing is for sure – technology will increase worker productivity, thus reducing working hours. Bear in mind that average working hours dropped from more than 12 hours in the agricultural era to about eight hours after the industrial revolution and will be further reduced as we usher in the AI era.

Therefore, the leisure economy – the arts, literature, sports, entertainment and tourism industries – has a great potential to grow. There is no doubt that there is an untapped potential in our entertainment and literary industries. Because Malaysians can speak different languages and these languages are spoken by many people around the world, the size of the potential market for our entertainment and literary products is more than the 30 million Malaysians. It would also be suitable for the more than one third of the world population that understands our languages.

To harness the potential of the unprecedented creativity of young Malaysians and their multilingual capabilities, the government should give special incentives for the production of films (including short films and YouTube videos), social media content, animation, music and literature and develop the ecosystem and infrastructure to allow the growth of these industries. Not only that, we must help to market these products to the global market to unleash its potential.

Another aspect of the leisure economy that I believe we have a competitive advantage in is tourism. Malaysia is blessed with good weather and free from disaster; coupled with our rich culture and diversity, it is indeed a good destination for tourists. Many of our small towns and villages are unique, charming, and comparable to many famous tourist spots around the world. The potential of small towns and eco-tourism in Malaysia is tremendous but still vastly untapped.

Perhaps it is time for us to rethink that the solution to poverty and a low income for the people living in rural and semi-urban areas may not lie in increased urbanisation. Instead, the answer could be sustainable tourism industry development via better infrastructure, government assistance and incentives as well as promotions. A good example of small town tourism is Sekinchan, which grew from a relatively unknown agricultural and fishing town just a decade ago to a tourism hotspot today.

Closing

In the era of the fourth industrial revolution, it is not just technology that will make an impact. Other industries too have the potential to grow as a consequence of society’s adoption of technology.

All in all, to thrive in the new world, our youths must be creative and most importantly, be fast – quick to identify opportunities, quick to learn and quick to adapt, because “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.”

*This article is extracted from a chapter of my upcoming book, "Reimagining Malaysia."

References: 
[1] Annunziata M and S Biller. The Future of Work. GE Discussion Paper. General Electric. 2014 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from http://files.gecompany.com/gereports/image/FutureOfWork_8am.pdf
[2] McLeod, Scott, Karl Fisch. Shift Happens. [cited 31 Aug 2017]. https://shifthappens.wikispaces.com.
[3] Jane Wakefield. Foxconn replaces '60,000 factory workers with robots'. 25 May 2016 [cited 3 1 Aug 2017]. Available from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966
[4] Cade Metz. In a huge breakthrough Google AI beats a top player at the game of GO. 27 Jan 2016 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from https://www.wired.com/2016/01/in-a-huge-breakthrough-googles-ai-beats-a-top-player-at-the-game-of-go/
[5] Brian Ahier. Fact or Fallacy: Could Artifical Intelligence Replace Doctors? HealthTech. 15 May 2017 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from https://healthtechmagazine.net/article/2017/05/fact-or-fallacy-could-artificial-intelligence-replace-doctors
[6] Dan Mangan. Lawyers could be the next profession to be replaced by artificial intelligence. CNBC. 17 Feb 2017 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/17/lawyers-could-be-replaced-by-artificial-intelligence.html
[7] Adam Satariano. Silicon valley hedge fund takes on wall street with AI trader. Bloomberg Technology. 6 Feb 2017 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-06/silicon-valley-hedge-fund-takes-on-wall-street-with-ai-trader
[8] Tom Rafthery. The Guardian. What jobs will still be around in 20 years? Read this and prepare your future. 26 Jun 2017 [cited 8 January 2018]. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/26/jobs-future-automation-robots-skills-creative-health