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  • The report also states that new high-tech jobs will spring up in advanced countries as robotics do away with menial or routine jobs in low-labor-cost nations.

    The report also states that new high-tech jobs will spring up in advanced countries as robotics do away with menial or routine jobs in low-labor-cost nations. | Photo: AFP

Published 4 April 2017

An international group of lawyers is warning that humans are ill-equipped to deal with a "Fourth Industrial Revolution" driven by automation.

A massive wave of job displacements driven by automation and artificial intelligence is coming and governments across the globe are far from prepared to deal with the disruptions this will cause, according to a report released Tuesday by an international group of lawyers.

The social changes caused by the broad computerization of production will likely alter the social landscapes in a manner unseen since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century as workers face competition from robots who never “become ill, have children or go on strike (and are) entitled to annual leave.”

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“Without doubt AI, robotics and increased automation will bring about changes in society at every level, in every sector and in every nation,” said Pascale Lagesse, co-chair of the International Bar Association Global Employment Institute. “This fourth industrial revolution will concurrently destroy and create jobs and paradoxically benefit and impair workers in ways that are not entirely clear or not yet imagined.”

“States as lawmakers will have to be bold in decision, determining what jobs should be performed exclusively by humans, for example: caring for babies; perhaps introducing human quotas in different sectors; taxing companies where machines are used; and maybe introducing a 'made by humans' label for consumer choice.”

Workers and governments in the Global South may face a particularly acute threat from this trend, as countries in Central and South America, North Africa and the Middle East haven't invested in digital infrastructure and have relatively low levels of the education necessary to benefit from the high-tech sector.

Countries that formerly attracted “runaway factories” from developed countries like the United States may witness countries relocate production facilities back to their own shores, devastating labor markets as robots in highly developed nations become cheaper than human laborers in poorer, less-developed nations, the report states.

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However, technologically advanced countries such as the United States, Singapore, South Korea and the Scandinavian countries will be better-prepared for the disruptions caused by robotic production due to their “technological head start,” the report states, with new high-tech jobs springing up in advanced countries as automation does away with menial or routine jobs in low-labor-cost nations.

South Korea already has 437 robots for every 10,000 jobs in the processing industry, with runners-up Japan and Germany having 323 and 282, respectively.

India and China, fast up-and-comers in the field of information technology and rapid urbanization, could also be well-positioned to reap the benefits of the so-called “fouth industrial revolution.”

Tech entrepreneurs like Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk have struck a positive tone on the impact of automation, claiming that people will have far more leisure time and that the lack of jobs caused by a robot revolution will require a Universal Basic Income to meet the needs of the future jobless.

However, rosy pictures such as those painted by Silicon Valley moguls like Musk has been sharply criticized by skeptics who see such fantasies as an unrealizable plan to forestall the inevitable social unrest that will wash over job markets while providing basic income recipients with enough money to remain consumers.

The report isn't the first to warn about the effects of AI on the global workplace. In 2016, the World Bank warned that about two-thirds of all vocations in developing nations will face replacement by automation.

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“Certainly, technological revolution is not new, but in past times it has been gradual,” said the IBA GEI report's coordinator, Gerlind Wisskirchen. “What is new about the present revolution is the alacrity with which change is occurring, and the broadness of impact being brought about by AI and robotics.”

The report also echoes the opinions of experts quoted in a similarly-themed report from 2014 by Pew Research Center.

“An increasing proportion of the world’s population will be outside of the world of work—either living on the dole, or benefiting from the dramatically decreased costs of goods to eke out a subsistence lifestyle,” Stowe Boyd, lead researcher at GigaOM Research, told Pew.

“The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the 'bot-based economy?”

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