Imagine a world where you can sit back and be paid a Universal Basic Income (UBI) by the government. Would you then decide to work? If yes, what would you do?

The ‘Future of Work’ is going to come in stages.

The first stage has already passed. The movement from hunter to farmer.

Then came the farmer society, which was the first time that man settled down in a village and therefore could specialise, there were bakers, farmers who depended on each other and specialists who worked for themselves. During the industrial revolution, the artisans were eliminated. It gave place to automation, where machines took the place of muscle. If you look at how human beings work, it essentially has two parts to it – muscle and mind. Today, there is very little muscle work, it is mostly mind work. In factories, muscle work is essentially supervising other workers.

There are very few factories where the mind has been taken over completely, but that is happening very rapidly. So, what we will see in the FoW, is a gradual (but not so slow in the historical context) acquisition of the mind by machines. If you look at the concept, there is a whole spectrum within it. Today, there are many tasks that are repetitive and lend themselves to automation, those will be the first to disappear.

Example (lawyers), year one lawyers who come into the system, are required to take a look at data and search for discrepancies. Sometimes, these are judgement calls – which machines can’t take over, yet. But, this comprises approximately only 10-15 percent of the total work. That piece can easily be automated. Particularly in contracts, it is easy for computers to accurately compute these tasks – these jobs will go quickly.

At the higher end, is the kind of work law firms like Trilegal do. These firms are presented with really complicated problems to solve, where the law is not clear. There is also a lot of experience that needs to come with it. Example: what would a regulator say in a particular circumstance? Therefore, intuition, experience and understanding of the regulator will lead a senior lawyer to consult with clients in a particular way. There is no way for a computer to regulate that, just yet.

So, that is the spectrum. This spectrum exists in every field today. Doctors, surgeons (there are some robots better than surgeons). The end of this spectrum is not visible yet.

Rahul Matthan, partner, Trilegal, is part of the TMT (Technology, Media and Telecom) practice group at the law firm and serves on its management committee. He has also been intimately involved in a raft of policy initiatives in the TMT space, including assisting the government in preparing the country's privacy law. What does the Future of Work mean in Mathan’s mind? Is there work in our future? If there is not, what would our choices look like? Matthan offers his insights. Edited excerpts:

So where are we evolving to?

If we are smart, what we will see, is what Garry Kasparov invented. Garry Kasparov invented what you call, Centaur Chess. (Listen to Garry Kasparov on Centaur Chess or advanced chess) Centaur Chess is humans playing with AI. Competing against other humans playing with AI. So, previously what AI could do was to compute billions of chess games and crunch the outcomes. What humans were able to do, was to play intuitively. Centaur Chess is where the computer will provide you with 5-6 options and the human then intuitively decides which of the 3 the best options are. In that manner, you marry the computational power that the human mind does not have with intuition that the computer does not have. So, Centaur Chess is my analogy for what I see as the Future of Work #FoW for the medium term.

If you look at driverless cars, AI will drive the car on a highway, where there is a less chance of people coming in. But when you enter the city, the human being will take over. There are several such examples where AI is an assistant in a far more sophisticated way than machines ever were before. The human here will do only certain tasks that the machine cannot. So, in combination, it will be much much more efficient.

In what you define as the Centaur world, what are the skill sets humans would require?

Oh, very different. Let us think of it this way – what is really hard for computers to do right now? It is everything to do with empathy, human-to-human interaction. As far as that is concerned, it is essential to figure out what jobs are dependent upon the human aspect – including my own.

I have to sit with a client and judge their risk appetite. Nursing and care giving is something a computer cannot do. Those are the kind of jobs that will survive till the end of the cycle. Automated jobs of any sort, will go first. Call centre operators who are reading from a script could go. Which may not be the case for a suicide helpline as there is no script but is based on human empathy…

To respond to the question, if I was to skill myself, I would do so more in the jobs that are currently less under risk than those that are more under risk. People generally say coding is a hot area, but soon computers can code for themselves. While coding maybe a good example of one way to go, I think it might be more relevant for us to look at the empathy-type skills.

That is one way to look at it.

The other, questions the very premise of Future of Work. Is there work in our future? If you reach a point of productivity, which is such that, machines and robots can farm for us, and do the rest of our work, do humans need to work at all? The very definition of what constitutes work may change.

Will that change the definition of what constitutes money as well?

There is a lot of talk about the basis of modern economics – which is growth. On a finite planet, growth is by definition finite. And, since money is so intrinsically linked, GDP translates to growth. These are harder questions, though, as they involve human nature. There is a lot of disparity that needs to be sorted out before providing a solid answer to the query.

I would say once the disparity is leveled (example the Scandinavian countries where it is very flat and the economic gap between the richest and poorest is not significant), you could experiment. If you think of the Future of Work in a prosperous society like France: What does the Future of Work mean to them? It is a prosperous society and people can afford to work for three days.

When you look at the Future of Work, you should definitely talk about UBI (Universal Basic Income). It is basically where everyone in the society gets an income. That income is enough for an individual to live. But, if you want to make more money, you are free to take a job. You can either just sit and live with that income. Or, if, you want to live better than that, you take up a job. UBI has been experimented in the Scandinavian countries and 1or2 States in the US. People are seriously considering this as an alternative. The problem in India is that, it need to come instead of subsidies. Today, we have got all sorts of subsidies, all those have to go. You only get one UBI of the same amount.

What happens to ethics?

The thing with ethics is that the lines keep getting redrawn. You have a basic moral code, but that moral code has evolved over the years. Technology has made so many things possible and so we have to find a new balance.

Very often, you have to redraw this balance after an incident. Example, the biggest ethical question we are currently facing is one where a Chinese scientist is gene-editing embryos to create babies that are no longer susceptible to the AIDS virus. The ethical question arises as the scientist has cut off the genes and the descendants of that baby won’t have the genes too. That is an ethical line crossed. The question remains whether it is ethical to generally fix it for that one child, or for the entire offspring.

This happened in China, how will we deal with it in India? There is a process by which society comes to these conclusions.

A done-to-death question … but will AI kill jobs?

That is the future without work – which we just spoke about.

(Even though that is a possibility) and if you couple that with UBI, maybe there is no need to work. In that case, the question is whether people will become lazy and will they just sit around? Fortunately or unfortunately we are not wired like that. People our parents’ age, who are retired, want to still take up courses and do something with their lives. That is the nature of human beings. If you take care of every one’s every needs, then everyone will still have the need to do something else. Once, we no longer have to work for necessity, it will change the way we think about work and work will hopefully become more fun. People will then work more for curiosity than for necessity

What are your closing thoughts?

The future of work is a paradigm between muscle and mind and whether there is work in our future.


Published Date: Mar 27, 2019 04:03 PM | Updated Date: Mar 27, 2019 07:03 PM IST

Tags : #future of work

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