McKinsey’s report “A Future That Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity” – which you can find on AFRICA REPORTS page -, talks about automation as a positive phenomenon which can counter western countries’ work force’s decline, improving its quality, speed and precision. According to experts, about a half of activities in the world has the right characteristics to be automatized: 5% of all these activities could be totally automatized, while 60% could be only partially automatized.
With this perspective, productivity could grow each year very much. Activities presenting a high automation index are the physical ones: factories, hotels, retail shops and restaurants.
The automation rhythm will depend on social, technical and economic contexts: in the predicted futures, there could be a real production breakthrough in 2055. In an ideal future, workers still have their jobs within their company, as they have specialized in dealing with new machines.
However, there is the possibility that what happened in the past with agriculture and manufacture will occur again: in the past, technological evolution replaced some manual works and made employment collapse.
Obviously, McKinsey’s positivity can be understood by those people dealing with business. The course is instead more difficult for those people not dealing with business or – and maybe it’s even worse – trying to manage it by holding an institutional, administrative or political office. It will be essential for these people to make social and economic ends meet, embracing new technologies and machine learning and avoiding too many social losses. Their challenge will be that of making educational and employment systems evolve, so that they could help citizens to keep pace with times.
It won’t be easy, especially for those countries which today find it hard to build infrastructure to ease basic trades and services.
It seems like McKinsey’s positivity doesn’t come to terms with two main elements: the outsourcing of robotics and its fast spread. Technological evolution won’t involve the entire world: it will concentrate mainly in USA, western Europe, Japan, China and some Asiatic countries, which count on working populations which are not young anymore and on political and social nets that can face a possible system crisis.
Technology’s and machine learning’s advance, pushed by the search for more productivity, will be faster and stronger than whichever political plan, and will risk causing a crisis in countries’ social structures. Before robotics’ run, workers will risk losing their jobs without having had the time to plan a period of studies to modernize and upgrade their skills. In the same way, governments won’t have had the time to promote fitting information and training programmes: technological revolution will be faster than them.
Political context will affect the situation very much and we are very worried when thinking that a mechanism similar to the political populism causing Brexit and Trump’s and Salvini’s elections could occur. The great loss in jobs could lead to a decrease in consumptions and take all countries involved in this technological boom to a systemic crisis.
It is impossible to imagine what could happen in Africa, where today lots of countries can’t guarantee a minimum quality of life to their citizens.