Coping with AI revolution

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Coping with AI revolution

U.S. online commerce player Amazon has recently opened a grocery store where customers can walk in and grab what they need and leave without having to go through a checkout line. Customers simply tap their smartphones at the turnstile as they walk into an Amazon Go store that logs them into the store’s network and connects to their Amazon account through an app.

Korean retailer Lotte Department Store also has employed a similar payment system in an outlet in Bundang on the outskirts of Seoul. The scanner reads the commodity barcode and adds the products to a virtual cart to be delivered to homes upon payment.

CNH Industrial showed off a self-driving tractor at the Farm Progress Show, a premier farm equipment show, in September. It tends to the fields, seeds and harvests on its own. In the United States, Pennsylvania has permitted driverless cars on roads, bringing in a fleet of Uber’s self-driving cabs to Pittsburgh.

The manufacturing sector also is going fully autonomous. Adidas built a smart factory in southern Germany, producing shoes made entirely by robots. Foxconn, the Taiwanese supplier for iPhones, has also gone automated, replacing 60,000 workers in its factory in Kunshan in China with robots.

Increased automation will bring an unprecedented threat to human labor. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the artificial intelligence revolution will eliminate 3.5 million simple jobs by permanently removing checkpoint staff at grocery stores. About 1 million jobs in transportation, retail, food manufacturing and hospitality in Korea are at risk.

The ramifications could be serious if factory workers are replaced by robots and smart machines. According to Oxford University researchers studying the probability of computerization substitution of human work, machines will replace 47 percent of active workers.

About 70 percent of jobs in Korea could no longer require humans.

Despite warnings and concerns about dehumanization from machines after the industrial revolution, technological advances benefited and assisted human labor. But the recent industrial revolution with robots and artificial intelligence is different as they can outperform humans. In the new age, humans and machines would compete over a job. Can there be a common ground?

There must be rationalization in labor organization and appropriation of jobs. In the typical industrial society system, the organization is run in a bureaucratic manner and roles are divided and specialized through management control and decision-making. But it cannot work in the fourth industrial revolution age as bureaucratic work can be entirely replaced by technology.

Methods must be sought to allow human labor and machines to share roles. The science of computers and linguistics and machines and philosophy must be integrated to ensure room for human resources.

Under automation, work hours and methods would be diversified. Yahoo Japan is considering adopting four-day work weeks. Japanese automaker Toyota and banks are also expanding to have employees work from home. The factories and clocks of the first industrial revolution won’t be necessary in the labor world of the fourth industrial revolution.

Then there must be creativity in the system. The licensing method to regulate Korean industries has been a barrier to novel business models and ideas. After-license control also has been lax. It is why Korea does not welcome innovation like the ride-sharing and room-sharing services of Uber and Airbnb. Instead of lifting regulations in uniform manners, Korea should shift its focus on regulation. Business opportunities should be widened while the rules of fair trade are reinforced.

Lastly, Korea must hurry to strengthen its social security net. The advent of the fourth industrial revolution should generate a concentration of select jobs, frequent moves and massive layoffs to protect the lives of the working class. Without social protections for the working class, the social response to change could have a heavy toll on the overall economy.

Resistance from the working class must also be considered. There must be social and economic study on various methods to reinforce employment insurance and social welfare for unemployment.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.


*The author is a professor of business administration at Sookmyung Women’s University.

Kwon Soon-won
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