Aakash K did the graveyard shift answering queries of US customers for a call centre. The job paid him well enough to be able to pay off his EMIs and live in Mumbai. When the company decided to go in for automation, Aakash found the strength of employees had reduced to a great extent. He was one of those who had lost their jobs.
Though Aakash lost his job to automation that is taking over jobs done by humans, another 'threat' (depending on one's perspective) gathering steam for some time now is that of Artificial Intelligence (AI). A number of surveys and studies by consultancies and firms show that AI will make mundane and repetitive jobs redundant. However, is that a big threat to all? Not really, if one is willing to adapt in this rapidly changing scenario.
Scope of AI
AI is intelligence displayed by a machine versus that by a human being. It is basically a machine mimicking a cognitive function that human beings associate themselves with such as learning and problem solving.
For instance, in 2016, ICICI Bank deployed 'Software Robotics' in over 200 business processes across various functions to perform 10 lakh transactions daily. The bank found that software robots reduced the response time to customers by up to 60 percent and increased accuracy to 100 percent thereby sharply improving the bank's productivity and efficiency. It has also enabled the bank's employees to focus more on value-added and customer-related functions. Since then, it has been scaled to over 500 software robots undertaking 15 lakh transactions daily.
"Unfortunately, most calamitous warnings of job losses confuse AI with automation that overshadows the greatest AI benefit - AI augmentation - a combination of human and artificial intelligence, where both complement each other," said Svetlana Sicular, research vice president at Gartner.
The scope of AI is immense and it can give people more time to think creatively and to pursue their roles in an organisation in an innovative manner when repetitive jobs are taken over by machines. As AI improve's the productivity of many jobs, eliminating millions of middle and low-level positions, it also create millions of more new positions of highly skilled, management and even entry-level and low-skilled variety.
But is the picture so rosy? A Nasscom report stated that over 260 million are likely to lose jobs to automation by 2020, if they are not skilled in emerging tech skills.
Who is at threat
Anyone who is not willing to adapt or is not skilled to take on the quick-paced technology landscape will have to drop off the race. Kris Lakshmikanth, chairman and managing director, The Head Hunters India, Bengaluru, and â??visiting faculty, Institute of Management, Ranchi, says the requirements of the IT industry, for instance, have changed over the years. The industry is no longer job-focused as it was earlier but is more tech-oriented.
"Earlier, the overseas clients of the tech majors in India would be appraised by the headcount of people working on a project. The payment would be made accordingly," he says. That has since changed with clients only interested in the project and not the number of people working on it. So tech graduates can be easily replaced with MCAs (Masters of Computer Applications), too, an HR policy many tech giants adopt to economise on large payout to tech graduates.
Lakshmikanth says that around 50 percent of current IT workforce who lack new age skills are likely to become irrelevant in the next four years.
Importance of AI
If India has to grow exponentially, job growth is imminent, say experts. At every stage with the introduction of AI, repetitive jobs have been relieved of its workforce but the technology has also led to growth and demand for other jobs such as data scientists, analysts, for instance. "The only difference is that speed of revolution is high now unlike the three decades it took to progress from mainframe to client servers, while to progress to Cloud, it took only two decades," said Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst and Founder, Greyhound Research. Since the pace of innovation is high, the pace of reskilling has to be at a continuous high, he said.
The number of jobs affected by AI will vary by industry; through 2019, healthcare, the public sector and education will see continuously growing job demand while manufacturing will be hit the hardest, according to a study by Gartner. Starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025. In 2021, AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity, the study said.
No cause for worry
Though 2020 is the year being mentioned when AI will completely change the job landscape, it will take at least two decades for it to completely change the job scenario, says Dr Sanjeev Kumar, co-founder of Bangalore-based startup Liv.ai. "It is not that less people will be engaged in the work force. There will be a need to employ more technology specialists like data scientists, for instance," he said.
Considering India's population, to integrate AI fully across job sectors and eliminate routine mundane jobs will not be easy. It is compounded by the fact that internet penetration and connectivity is still an issue in the country.
There are three big components to Artificial Intelligence -- machine learning, data analytics and IoT (Internet of Things) devices. All these functions cannot be done by one single resource, pointed out Pradipto Chakrabarty, Regional Director, CompTIA India. There is a requirement for developers who can make software development programs, data analysts to analyse the data and then IoT - where the software and data integrates to connect to the physical device. "This is where the knowledge of networking and devices will be required. The fourth most important aspect is when there is mass percolation of IoT, there will be a requirement of cyber security and cloud computing specialists," Chakrabarty said. In all of these domains, a high level of creativity is required.
Artificial Intelligence can be a boon for women, especially those who have taken a software job instead of hardware as many were restricted by cultural and familial compulsions. Currently, the numbers are skewed against women in the IT sector -- there is one woman engineer for three men engineers, leading to the fact that the Indian technology industry has just 26 percent women in engineering roles. The overall representation of women in the engineering workforce of IT firms is just 34 percent, according to a survey on 'The Gender Gap in the Tech Industry in India' in India by Belong whose findings were released in October 2017. This reinforces the assumption that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs attract less women on account of the workload, the survey added. But with AI not requiring physical presence of personnel to support devices, perhaps more women will be keen to enter the workforce, Chakraborty hoped.
The fear of AI will be most in those who resist learning anything new either out of fear or arrogance. "Any technology that is new is welcomed by the younger generation. The ones who complain about AI taking away jobs are those who either don't know fully well the technology and its scope and thus fear it will make them jobless. Then are those who do not want to learn out of arrogance - the know-it-alls. These two kinds are bound to fall off the job market," said Gogia of Greyhound Research.