Yes, ro­bots are go­ing to steal most of our jobs, and pos­si­bly even ren­der us ob­so­lete, but it is not all doom and gloom, says the EPF-The Star roundtable on ‘The Fu­ture of work: Pre­par­ing for to­mor­row to­day’.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By HARIATI AZIZAN star2@thes­

THINK be­yond jobs.

At a time when tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments and dis­rup­tions are rapidly chang­ing the world of work, many ex­perts are say­ing that in or­der to meet the chal­lenges of the com­ing New Work Or­der, what we need to do is, per­haps, to give up on jobs. Jobs as we know them, that is.

“We have 125 years of his­tory of work be­ing done in jobs and what we are see­ing in many or­gan­i­sa­tions around the world is the rapid de­con­struc­tion of jobs and their re­con­struc­tion into new jobs with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ro­bot­ics be­ing ap­plied to rou­tine and non-rou­tine tasks.

“So, I think we need to think be­yond jobs and chal­lenge the sta­tus quo,” said Willis Tow­ers Watson man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and global prac­tice leader Ravin Je­suthasan.

Ravin was one of the speak­ers at a me­dia roundtable dur­ing the re­cent In­ter­na­tional So­cial Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence (ISSC) 2017 or­gan­ised by the Em­ploy­ees Prov­i­dent Fund with global in­vest­ments com­pany BNY Mel­lon at Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sen­tral. Themed “Fu­ture of work: Pre­par­ing for to­mor­row to­day”, the an­nual two-day con­fer­ence put at the fore­front peo­ple’s con­cerns of what the fu­ture brings as in­dus­tries and work­places un­dergo trans­for­ma­tion at a daz­zling speed, and how best to pre­pare for it.

And the fu­ture of work is with­out a doubt a burn­ing topic among busi­ness lead­ers, pol­icy mak­ers and thinkers, if the di­a­logue – which in­cluded EPF deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of strat­egy di­vi­sion Tunku Al­iza­kri Alias; 21st cen­tury busi­ness de­sign global con­sul­tancy To­mor­row CEO Mike Walsh; BNY Mel­lon chair­man (Asia-Pa­cific) David Cruik­shank and fu­tur­ol­o­gist Mag­nus Lind­kvist – is of any in­di­ca­tion. Point­ing out how the tra­di­tional ethos of “I learn, I do and I re­tire” is be­com­ing passé, Ravin stressed that a mind­set change is key to pre­pare peo­ple for the com­ing changes in the fu­ture global workscape.

“It is easy to fo­cus on the tech­nol­ogy as­pect, but the other thing that is chang­ing rapidly is the democrati­sa­tion of jobs.

“So when you talk about get­ting peo­ple pre­pared for the change there is mind­set change that is called for.”

BNY Mel­lon chair­man Cruik­shank agreed, point­ing out that from the fi­nan­cial ser­vices per­spec­tive, one of the changes we are see­ing is the con­tin­u­ous digi­ti­sa­tion.

“Con­tin­ued digi­ti­sa­tion and use of dig­i­tal data and dig­i­tal mech­a­nism through the or­gan­i­sa­tion is cre­at­ing change. If you look his­tor­i­cally at large com­pa­nies and large fi­nan­cial ser­vice com­pa­nies, de­vel­op­ment tended to be ver­ti­cal, so you get busi­ness spe­cific solutions from top to bot­tom, from clients to the back of­fice.

“In the con­tin­ued digi­ti­sa­tion process, what we see is a more holis­tic abil­ity to of­fer solutions to clients across mul­ti­ple busi­ness aisles.”

He said this is a very big change in the in­dus­try.

“Sit­ting in a com­pany with over 15,000 peo­ple, look­ing at holis­tic so­lu­tion that brings to­gether ev­ery­thing the com­pany has to bear, to find solutions for the client, that’s a pretty big change.”

In terms of the new gen­er­a­tion, they will need to re­tool them­selves three to four times over the course of their ca­reer, Ravin high­lighted.

“Nine out of the top 10 jobs most in de­mand in 2015 didn’t ex­ist be­fore. Ac­cord­ing to a re­search we did with the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, 65% of pri­mary school kids to­day will be in jobs that never ex­isted be­fore.

“It is chal­leng­ing many of our long-held be­liefs and will­ing­ness of in­di­vid­u­als, so­ci­eties, and gov­ern­ments to reskill on a mas­sive scale,” he noted.

Con­cur­ring, EPF deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of strat­egy di­vi­sion Tunku Al­iza­kri put for­ward a pol­icy per­spec­tive.

“In terms of the gov­ern­ment re­sponse, look­ing at the Malaysian per­spec­tive, it is a men­tal model mind­set that needs to be changed sub­stan­tially.”

One key area is ed­u­ca­tion, said Tunku Al­iza­kri, who opined that equip­ping chil­dren with sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) knowl­edge alone is not enough to pre­pare them for the au­to­mated and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence fu­ture.

“We can­not just fo­cus on STEM, we also have to fo­cus on the hu­man­i­ties as­pect, es­pe­cially if ma­chines are to take over roles and tasks that are eas­ily au­to­mated.”

To stay ahead, he added, “We have to ei­ther be­come more hu­man or be­come robot over­lords, which means we have to be bet­ter than the ro­bots. And what is the one thing that the ro­bots can­not do, which is ac­tu­ally the hu­man as­pect of things?

“So our gov­ern­ment needs a more holis­tic per­spec­tive on ed­u­ca­tion, and fo­cus on both hu­man­i­ties and sci­ence.”

Tunku Al­iza­kri un­der­scored the need for the coun­try to act fast to meet the chal­lenges. “Ex­po­nen­tially speak­ing things are al­ready mov­ing, we need to be ready for the change yes­ter­day.”

To fu­tur­ist Walsh, the real prob­lem is the word “job” it­self, the na­ture of which has changed more than 10 years ago, he said.

“Even now we are talk­ing about sav­ing jobs, what a good job is, whether there is job se­cu­rity but ac­tu­ally the idea of jobs has al­ready changed 10 years ago; we just haven’t ac­cepted it.

“The idea of a pro­fes­sion where you are pro­tected by a guild and your knowl­edge, and where you are guar­an­teed with a cer­tain kind of mid­dle­class liv­ing, has al­ready been dec­i­mated in the last 10 years.”

Walsh also be­lieves the prob­lem in the fu­ture is that it is dan­ger­ous to de­mon­e­tise ro­bots and an­droids.

We scream “they will be com­ing, and go­ing to sit in our cars, and go­ing af­ter our chil­dren!” he said, be­cause we for­get that the world is al­ready di­vided into tasks and peo­ple who will be able to cre­ate value along­side al­go­rithm, cre­ate de­sign and have su­pe­rior judg­ment.

“There are peo­ple to­day who think that be­cause the smart­phone al­lo­cates you a task, whether it’s to de­liver a par­cel or pick up some­one’s laun­dry or drive a car, these kind of gig econ­omy jobs are cool.

“But this is go­ing to go away very quickly when peo­ple re­alise that you can­not get in­sur­ance, there is no sup­port net­work and you are be­ing man­aged by an al­go­rithm. This is go­ing to be a source of in­cred­i­ble in­equal­ity, frus­tra­tion, anger, and pos­si­bly vi­o­lence as you will have a two-tier so­ci­ety.”

To be pre­pared for the fu­ture, he stressed it is im­por­tant to make sure we have enough peo­ple “who have the in­tel­lec­tual abil­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence to de­sign al­go­rithms and to be able to call them out when they are not work­ing prop­erly. It is not an ac­cept­able out­come to be peo­ple who are just task driven with­out any se­cu­rity work­ing for an al­go­rithm.”

Pro­fess­ing to be scep­ti­cal about the hy­per­bole of the un­cer­tain fu­ture, fu­tur­ol­o­gist Lind­kvist, mean­while thinks we should fo­cus on things to that don’t change and try to do them bet­ter.

“If the world, as you say, is chang­ing faster, it is prob­a­bly a good idea to fo­cus on things that don’t.

“Not ev­ery­thing changes faster. For ex­am­ple, I am a par­ent of two nine-year-old boys, last year they were eight, and they will be 10 only next year. This is the same as when I was grow­ing up.

“So I’m a lit­tle bit scep­ti­cal about the hy­per­bole of the fu­ture that I see every-

where to­day: the tech­nol­ogy world, geopo­lit­i­cal shift and the Trump pres­i­dency,” said Lind­kvist, who be­lieves that we need some healthy scep­ti­cism as an an­ti­dote to the gloom and doom of the talk about the rapidly chang­ing fu­ture.

Lind­kvist be­lieves long-term plan­ning is cru­cial to meet the chal­lenges of the rapidly chang­ing world.

“His­tory has proven that rev­o­lu­tions of­ten fail, while evo­lu­tion of­ten suc­ceeds.

“If you want to make things work and be sus­tain­able, I think we just need to plan for things to un­fold over a longer pe­riod of time. That goes for tech­nol­ogy and im­ple­ment­ing cer­tain so­ci­etal changes.”

He re­counted Swe­den’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the face of an eco­nomic cri­sis in the early 90s.

“For a cou­ple of years we had the same post-Lehman gloom and doom in the news every day, this coun­try is doomed and the young of this coun­try will fail.

“Then 10 years later we were on the cover of Newsweek as the new tech­no­log­i­cal mecca of the world.

“To em­pha­sise, when we take a short-term per­spec­tive, we will see mainly con­flict, drama and tur­bu­lence. We will not see any­thing use­ful to build busi­nesses from or make in­vest­ments on top of. So, we need to make a 28-year-plan. Or be in­spired by Soft­bank (a Ja­panese multi­na­tional telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­ter­net cor­po­ra­tion) which has a 300-year vi­sion.”

Tunku Al­iza­kri ques­tioned if this is pos­si­ble in the cur­rent fast mov­ing world, ar­gu­ing that things change so rapidly with tech­nol­ogy. “Look at Airbnb, which be­came big­ger than Hil­ton only af­ter four years.”

To which Lind­kvist said it is the re­sult of mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion, which he de­scribed as “a bit like fame.”

“Ger­man poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in 1902 that ‘Fame is af­ter all only the sum of all the mis­un­der­stand­ings that gather around a new name,’” he quoted. “Mar­ket cap is only mis­un­der­stand­ings that gather around a new name.”

Lind­kvist com­pared ex­po­nen­tial tech­nol­ogy to fly­ing.

“When peo­ple talk about the ex­po­nen­tial de­vel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy, I al­ways think about tak­ing off on a plane. When it is time for take­off, you al­ways get caught in the won­der of the in­ven­tion but 30 min­utes later you start com­plain­ing about why they are not serv­ing you a drink or meal. You don’t con­tinue to be amazed at how high and fast you are fly­ing,” he mused.

It is only in the short term that we have an ex­po­nen­tial de­vel­op­ment, he re­it­er­ated.

“I think it is a ne­ces­sity to have a multi-cen­tury vi­sion, es­pe­cially given the fact that we are go­ing to live longer in the fu­ture.”

Bounc­ing off Lind­kvist’s rev­o­lu­tion ver­sus evo­lu­tion point, Cruik­shank shared it is an is­sue that he has been ru­mi­nat­ing on.

“I’ve al­ways won­dered – are the in­dus­try changes cor­po­rate-cen­tred or con­sumer-cen­tred?

“It is also not clear to me if tech­nol­ogy is driv­ing these changes so that we need to im­me­di­ately re­act to them to po­si­tion our­selves prop­erly or if tech­nol­ogy is fa­cil­i­tat­ing the changes tak­ing place, there­fore cre­at­ing faster changes than oth­er­wise would hap­pen.”

He noted that the world has gone through var­i­ous phases of trans­for­ma­tion be­fore.

“If we think of where peo­ple in gen­eral had their se­cu­rity drive their in­come and pro­tect their fam­ily, it has been a mi­gra­tion from gov­ern­men­tal feu­dal sys­tems to cor­po­rate sys­tems. And now we talk about a gig econ­omy which is re­ally be­ing fa­cil­i­tated by so­cial net­works and tech­nol­ogy which is be­ing pro­vided by on­line plat­forms.

“When you look at that within a cor­po­rate sense to­day in the world, I think it is the same thing hap­pen­ing. We are cre­at­ing dig­i­tal plat­forms that al­low clients to op­er­ate dif­fer­ently.

“Our job is to cre­ate a dig­i­tal plat­form so that we can work to­gether so that our clients can have bet­ter solutions over­all.

“So, I look at tech­nol­ogy as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor rather than driv­ing some­thing that we im­me­di­ately need to re­act to,” said Cruik­shank.

The EPF-The Star Roundtable on “The Fu­ture of work: Pre­par­ing for to­mor­row to­day” was mod­er­ated by The Star ’s Fea­tures Edi­tor, Busi­ness, Jagdev Singh Sidhu.


(From left) Lind­kvist, Walsh, Tunku Al­iza­kri, Cruik­shank and Ravin speak­ing at the me­dia roundtable with The Star, mod­er­ated by Jagdev Singh Sidhu, at the In­ter­na­tional So­cial Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence 2017 at Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sen­tral.

he na­ture of jobs has lready hanged, many by utoma­tion, in the last 10 ears, said Walsh.

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