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March 23, 2018

Race against Algorithms!

Retrenchments in IT and ITeS sector of India is a buzz word as well as a matter of grave concern these days. There may be an effect of so called ‘Trump’ localization drive where he would be attempting preference for creating jobs in US than helping other countries create opportunities.  But, what’s more worrying at an alarming rate for a services oriented economy like India is automation.

With Artificial Intelligence and other machine learning capabilities adding that layer of ‘intelligence’ to the devices, products and services the need for human interface and intervention is on decline and this where countries like India are being hit where the basic value proposition was price arbitrage of labour or skills.

From sheer technology trend, this is a significant achievement, but for economic reasons, it seems we have created a monster in front of us that is steadily depriving us of economic pursuits. The equations of the game are reversing, where a human being used to say that we can create any machine, now it’s that machines can do everything humans could.  So, from a business sense, why would any human being hire another when machines could do the same with efficiency and without the troublesome behavioral and attitudinal symptoms.  No emotions to deal with and no mood swings to tackle upon. Breather for HRs of the organizations; at least for a while. Long term HR function may not exist.  When there would be no humans or they would be feeling terribly threatened, there would be no need to have a function to tackle their productivity and emotional balance.

Having that said, it may not be as worrisome as it appears for now.  We are seeing early signs of transitionary phase. Much akin to what we saw when Computers (PCs) started surfacing.  At that time, we feared in a similar way that there would be no requirement of human beings in organistaions of future. However, eventually what happened is we are witness to.  It enabled creation of several jobs. From India perspective, just think of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) opportunities it threw open.

Similarly, right now we are adding intelligence to the products, services and devices by putting down smart codes for advanced algorithms. These algorithms are taking over our present skills opening a challenge for us.  This is where we are now required to upgrade.  Upgrade our skills so that we sort of beat these self-created benchmarks resulting out of the progress we have made on algorithms.

India would have been in no better advantage than to start Skilling mission. This is the right time that we need an upgrade of skills to beat the algorithms and raise our standards of intelligence where algorithms may not help.  However, with this reality around, we need to revisit our Skilling initiatives at national level. Typically, we align skill programmes to the basic levels of economic pursuits where the focus is to create more of functional operators with the premise that there is going to be an increasing need of such technicians to execute a function. But the way technology is moving, we may not be requiring all those people at all, at least in the anticipated quantities. Just recently, for instance, McDonald’s introduced the self-ordering kiosks that will challenge the numbers we anticipate in organized retail. We have similar thing happening everywhere. Chatbots for instance, is a threat to customer service support function.

Looking at these developments we need to re-strategize our Skilling programme where the focus would also be on higher order job roles to be able to create a cream of highly skilled champions who would then create newer opportunities for masses. Rather than having ‘Train the Trainers’, need is of having highly skilled people who could exploit latest technologies to create newer economic pursuits for masses in great numbers. There should be an integration of technology and economic problems.  That is what we must focus upon and realign the Skilling initiatives and empower our youth and professionals to ‘Race against Algorithms’!

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author, Faisal Kawoosa, Principal Analyst, CMR. The matter of this article has not been edited by skillreporter.com. SkillReporter shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organization directly or indirectly.)