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4th Industrial Revolution 'needn't lead to jobs cull'

By Andrew Moody in Dalian | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-28 07:55
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A man experiences augmented reality equipment during the World Economic Forum in Dalian, Liaoning province, June 27. [Photo by Zhu Xingxin/China Daily]

Experts stress importance of education in dealing with technological change

The advance of robotics will create opportunities and need not necessarily destroy people's livelihoods, according to business leaders at the Summer Davos forum in Dalian.

Vishal Sikka, chief executive officer of Indian technology services group Infosys' US operations, addressing the key theme of the forum that the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution should be inclusive, told a news conference at the opening of the meeting, that the workforce had to become more educated to deal with the challenge.

"Education is the answer to this problem. The march of technology is inevitable and we have to move forward because there is no alternative," he said.

"With self-driving cars, for example, the software technology does not fall from the skies. It is written by people like us. There is no reason why this can't generate thousands of jobs. It is about creating the jobs of the future."

It is the speed of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0 as it is sometimes referred to, that concerns many.

According to a survey by EEF, the UK manufacturers' organization, 80 percent of the respondents said robotics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and nanotechnology, could dominate industry by 2025 with the potential to destroy not just manufacturing jobs but those in the service sector too.

Earlier revolutions, such as the first triggered by steam power, the second by mass production and the third, the digital revolution, all took place over longer periods of time, making it easier for society to adjust.

Jean Liu, president of Xiaoju Science and Technology, the company behind Didi Chuxing, the mobile taxi app that has taken China by storm with more than 400 million users, said technology will drive change in society.

"We are at an important juncture. Technology is changing all industries, including mine which is transportation," she said.

Liu added that Didi had created new work for many of the 17 million drivers that now collect money through the service.

"A number of them are people who have been laid-off by heavy industries," she said.

Shu Yinbiao, chairman of the State Grid Corporation of China, the world's largest utility and the second largest Fortune Global 500 company, said new energy would be at the forefront of the new industrial revolution and that would also create jobs.

"Energy has been the trigger for the previous three industrial revolutions and we now must be ready to meet the challenge of the fourth," he said.

Thomas Luedi, Asia managing partner for energy and process industries for management consultants AT Kearney, who was also attending the forum, said the fast development of new technologies posed many questions.

"If you automate you take away shop floor labor and create jobs for engineers to maintain the robots and also for data analysts. The challenge is what you are going to do with the people who have gone by the wayside and where you find that engineer who can maintain the robot."

Edward Tse, founder and CEO of management consultants Gao Feng Advisory, however, said the new technology will create a job crisis in China and elsewhere within a decade.

"It is going to create a lot of risks of employment for a large number of people. China, however, does not have any other option but to innovate, even though it is going to create quite a lot of pressures within society," he said.

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