Preparing for job losses in the AI era

July 18, 2019 11:00
As AI will make several jobs redundant, policymakers must focus on retraining workers deemed at risk. Photo: Bloomberg

Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to boost business efficiency and bring the world into a new era of customization.

However, the downside for society is that more jobs will be lost to automation, a development that will pose a new challenge to governments and policymakers around the world.

I visited a start-up company in London several weeks ago. The company uses AI to help clients proofread legal documents.

What took weeks for human professionals, a computer can get it done in seconds now.

Such cases tell us that the time when computers will displace knowledge-intensive jobs in a massive way is not far away, as companies constantly seek ways to enhance their competitiveness.

Around 7 million American workers lost their jobs to machines between 2004 and 2009. And their salary was reduced by 17 to 30 percent permanently when they returned to the labor market, according to researchers from Harvard University.

For those who were not able to find a new job within two months, their chance of getting one ever again dropped significantly, the research found. Many suffered mental or marriage issues and their children became more vulnerable to learning problems.

Many jobs have already disappeared in the US, and the problem will get worse in the coming years. While we need to embrace technology rather than fight against it, we should not underestimate its impact on the job market.

Policymakers must act in advance and make plans for retraining of workers deemed at risk of losing their jobs.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 17

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Venture Partner of Sequoia Capital China, former head of the data committee and vice president at Alibaba Group.