Facebook, in its infinite wisdom (its creepy stalking, rather) recently advertised Articoolo to me.
This is a site that can supposedly write a whole article for you. All you have to do is enter a couple of keywords and wait for an eternity.
I went through a couple of dozen keywords before finding one that the site didn’t reject outright. It then proceeded to sputter for a bit, and the loading bar slowly filled up. It spat random facts at me while I waited—”7 of 8 content writers prefer pizza with olives when they have to stay late at the office,” it said. I nodded sagely. True facts.
Aaannd then it was like, “Sorry, can’t able. Please pick another keyword”.
This was my brief and not-so-fascinating encounter with code that might one day replace me.
Sure, this specific site was a bit of a letdown, but technology keeps getting better. Plus, there are other programs out there, right now, that can actually write fully legible, accurate articles when provided with some basic information. It might not win a Pulitzer prize just yet, but I’d call this pretty impressive—when given the scores for a baseball game, the program can spit out an accurate article from the perspective of either team.
Uncanny, huh? It’s starting to seem like I need to look for a new line of work this decade. And let’s be honest, a soulless machine might actually be an improvement (note the self-effacing humour. Give brownie).
But, if technology has already reached a stage where it’s this good, what about easier-to-automate jobs?
Monotonous, not-so-complex tasks like filing are ripe for automation.
Eventually, once technology is good enough, it might even be able to take over certain aspects of creative professions. Sounds kinda far fetched? Check this out.
Here’s a piece of music that was conceived and created by AI.
Neural networks are all the rage for being able to take a photo and turn it into an incredible-looking piece of art.
So, what does our future, here in India, hold?
Do Machines Want Our Jobs?
In case you’ve missed the last 90-ish years of sci-fi cinema, we’re supposed to believe that robots hate us. They sometimes hunt us down with sizzling lasers, shiny chrome, and cold rage. And other times, with alcohol and a devil-may-care attitude.
The truth is less exciting than fiction in this case, though.
Machines, robots, and code are replacing people because it simply makes sense for them to. They’re usually more efficient, cheaper, and there’s less danger to people if the job in question involves hazardous conditions.
Historically, machines tend to replace jobs that involve routine. There are plenty of monotonous jobs (think, filing) that no one would pick if they had the choice. Machines would eliminate the need for people to spend their lives shuffling papers, and it would be a lot more efficient at it.
Across the world, jobs involving routine and repetition, like farming and weaving, have already been replaced or supplemented by machines. The image of a car production line is fairly iconic—yellow robot arms indifferently assembling cars at a prodigious rate.
This stands testament to the extent to which an industry can embrace automation.
Except, this raises the question—what does the paper-shuffling dude do when all the paper-shuffling jobs are taken by machines? Sure, he could get another job. But what if he doesn’t have other skills?
We’ll touch upon this in a bit.
Will India Automate?
India might seem slow on the tech uptake. You don’t need to look further than government offices to get this impression. But, you might be surprised to know that, In 2015, India was ranked #1 when it came to embracing automation.
According to an article on Trak.in, the textile brand, Raymond, has announced that it’s going to be replacing 10,000 of its employees in India with machines. Remember what I said about monotonous jobs getting the sci-fi treatment? The same article talks about how HDFC and ICICI are both automating a large chunk of their operations. And everyone knows that banks are places where boredom goes to be bored.
The numbers paint an ominous picture of the future, even for the IT industry. Forbes projects that the Indian IT sector will lose 14% of its outsourced jobs to automation by 2021. It makes sense. If the companies that outsource their work here can do it for cheaper back home, why would they bother outsourcing at all?
Jobs that currently provide millions of Indians with their dal, roti, and makaan are going to become redundant.
But one thing that sometimes gets left out of the discussion is that while automation does result in a loss of employment, it also creates other employment opportunities. Whenever humans are made redundant in some form or the other, the demand for people in other roles goes up, leading to employment and growth.
Interestingly, For the foreseeable future, jobs involving soft skills, critical thinking, creativity don’t look like they’re in too much danger. They’re harder to automate, since they require nuance, emotional quotient, and intuition.
Government, Help Us Hit The Books
A report by HfS Research, featured in The Economic Times, states that while low-skill jobs will fall by 30%, medium and high-skill jobs will rise by 8% and 56% respectively.
For someone to be able to take advantage of the higher-skill positions that are created when a workforce is automated, they need to have a certain level of education and learning. And this is where education plays a critical role.
Teach the paper-shuffling dude how to manage the machines that are now doing the shuffling.
Between modern schools and on-the-job training, people would actually benefit from automation. It would allow them to move on to better jobs, for one thing.
We have to look to the government here. Aware, as they must be, of the implications of automation, they need to work toward providing every Indian with access to education. Specifically, quality education, that can provide them with the skills to ride the automation wave.
One thing is for sure: industry thrives on profit and robots are profitable investments.
How we adapt to the coming changes is left entirely to us and our current overlords—of the fleshy variety.
Reskilling, education, and smart policies are the tools that will see us through the transition ahead. It might not be easy, but it’ll be well worth it once we’re past the initial humps.