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Thursday, 23 January 2014 00:00
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Nearly half of today’s jobs, an Oxford University study points out, could be automated in the next two decades


When Instagram, the Economist’s cover story on jobs points out, was sold to Facebook for $1 billion, it had 30 million customers and 13 employees—Kodak, which had shut shop a few months earlier, the Economist leader points out, employed 145,000 people in its heyday. With Google’s driverless cars, machines have managed to mimic human intelligence, something unthinkable even a few years ago when, at best, machines were meant to replace repetitive jobs, not those that involved cognitive skills. The good news here is that while reporters’ jobs can be taken over by machines—for writing up company results, for instance—editors such as the ones who write in this space have a much smaller chance of being replaced by machines, going by the Oxford study quoted in the newspaper as saying that humans can be replaced by machines in about 47% of occupation categories, with telemarketers and accountants most at risk.While you’d think this applies to the West, and not to India, just think of the weavers put out of business by mills, typists by computers, postmen by email and processing labs by digital cameras and phones. All of which suggests that while India is doing well to try and expand its skilling of the work force through the National Skills Development Corporation, there is a more urgent need to upgrade schools and colleges since, with all technological change, the fruits go to those with brains rather than just skills. The iPhone, let’s not forget, may be made in China, but Foxconn gets a fraction of its value while the lion’s share goes to Apple’s techies. And as 3-D printing gets cheaper, that too could change for Foxconn.



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