THE ROBOTS HAVE ARRIVED

Most pertinent among disruptions brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution would be the challenges on human labour being displaced by automation, robotics and AI. The World Bank estimates that two-thirds of all jobs in the developing world are susceptible to automation.

Already, AI is disrupting jobs long considered immune to technological displacement, such as white-collar and creative works. The emergence of technological advances in the financial sector now known as FinTech is already uprooting white-collar work in the financial sector, displacing traditional roles in banking and investment.

AI-driven automation penetrated the healthcare sector some years ago, touching areas of medical expertise such as surgery and diagnosis – specialisations previously thought to be bound to the abilities of a human medical practitioner.

AI has even moved into spaces once considered exclusive to human creativity. Computers are already able to write articles indistinguishable from those written by humans. In the United States, a tech company called Narrative Science has successfully pioneered a natural language generation software: Quill is a technology able to transform raw data into intelligible reports and articles. This technology has already been adopted by Forbes for its corporate earning reports, and the Associated Press for its financial and sports reports.

In Indonesia, the government implements an odd-even policy in traffic-congested hot spots which only allows cars with odd-numbered car plates to enter the city on odd-numbered calendar dates, and vice versa. To overcome this problem, Grab, the popular ride-hailing service, created a new algorithm to recognise the date, time, location, and car plate number of each ride request and driver, so that Grab drivers are able to enter the congested hot spots at required times.

In Malaysia, UEM Edgenta has implemented the Smart Facilities Management Solution, which employs the IoT to provide energy solutions for smart buildings. The data collected from smart buildings managed by UEM Edgenta goes through their software, allowing it to generate energy-saving solutions based on the information it receives.

Gamuda Berhad also introduced its Industrialised Building System (Gamuda IBS), which optimises efficiency through reduced construction time and reliance on manpower. All building elements are completed in a factory-controlled environment, which in turn enhances quality. The building elements are then installed on site in a Lego-like fashion, which reduces wastage and minimises the number of workers on site, subsequently increasing safety levels.

In industry manufacturing, investors are already making the move out of developing countries to developed countries due to advances in AI and robotics. Some businesses have returned to the West where these technologies and talent reside.

The savings obtained from using robots or automation instead of human employees is what attracts investors. Average labour costs in manufacturing in 2025, after adjustments for inflation and other costs and productivity-boosting developments, may be 33 per cent lower in South Korea and 18 to 25 per cent lower in China, Germany, the US and Japan than they otherwise would have been.

Closer to home, about 43 per cent of jobs in Malaysia are already at risk of being automated by today’s technology17. For example, increased investment in automation by First Solar in Kulim High Tech Park may result in up to 50 per cent of its human workforce being affected.

While it is true that the effects of AI and automation disruption in countries like Malaysia tend to be moderated by lower wages and slower technology adoption, we should still be cognisant of this fact: the speed of these technological advances will also affect our nation’s ability to compete with the world and retain our economic viability.

In short, we cannot be forever dependent on cheap labour as a buffer against the challenges of the future. 

Apart from the challenges from AI and robotics, improved mortality rates are now growing an ageing population that continues to work rather than retire. The demand for experienced expert talent is limiting the number of work opportunities for huge numbers of fresh graduates trying to enter the workforce. 

On top of this, there is the issue of climate change, a problem that threatens existing jobs in resource-driven industries, and demands for expertise in skills that can address environmental challenges. In order to gain in our strides as a nation, we must continue to anticipate what lies ahead. 

Source : TalentCorp - Visioning Malaysia's Future of Work : A Framework For Action
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