A world in transformation | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 27, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 27, 2019

A world in transformation

The world is at a crossroads of major transformation triggered by the process of digitalisation. It involves massive adaptation of digital technologies that generate, process and share information, and data drive our production and economic activities. The impact of digitalisation is profound and all-encompassing: it affects our lifestyle, education, work, health, resource efficiency, energy consumption and many other aspects of our lives. We are in the process of creating a new world and in many ways we are in unchartered waters. We are likely to face massive challenges in the short run, but if we can carefully navigate through them, it will offer us huge opportunities.

While digitalisation will have an impact on all aspects of our life and economy, how we work is going to be the most affected. The process of digitalisation will completely alter our production lines, supply chain management and the need for skill-sets in our workforce. It will bring whole-scale changes in our workplaces that will result in large scale job losses in the short run. We can classify these jobs in two categories. The first category will be jobs that will disappear or will become irrelevant to human skills. For example, as we go into driverless cars it will take away the jobs of truck and lorry drivers; machine capacity will make the need for many skills like radiology redundant.

The second category deals with jobs that will need total readjustment and re-adaptation with machines or algorithms, like environmental engineers, traffic managers and others. But it will also usher in an era of new jobs and new skills. Jobs that had previously been unknown to our existing workforce will open up, like data and deep data managers, human-machine interface operators, smart city executives and many more. It is quite possible that there will be massive job losses to start with. In the worst case scenario, the numbers could go as high as a billion. But societies that will be able to grasp the transformation well will take advantage of the new jobs that would be created. We will probably need huge capacity in such jobs such as Machine Optimisation Manager, Cloud or Multi Cloud Providers, Data Scientists and others.

This major transformation will need rapid re-skilling and up-scaling of our workforce. The workers of tomorrow may no longer be singularly skilled as they will have to operate in the overlapping and interlinked sectors of production and economy. Therefore, we will need to train workers of tomorrow to be dual-skilled or multi-skilled. As technology is constantly evolving, it will be essential for our workers to be constantly educated and updated. A classical skill-set cannot last a lifetime. It will call for a dynamic process of skilling and education.

A critical challenge for relatively low tech, labour-intensive third world countries will be to manage this quick transformation with minimum social and economic disruption. These societies can also take advantage of the new situation because robotics and artificial intelligence systems will not only replace human tasks and jobs, but in many cases, it will also be augmenting their skills and capacity thus increasing productivity. This new model of human/digital augmentation must be exploited to the maximum.

Like the job market and our production practices, the process of digitalisation will revolutionise our financial sector and economy. Financial technology or FinTech will completely change the delivery of financial services. It will speed up and diversify our payment processes and the way consumers interact with financial service providers by reducing the flow of cash in interaction. It will aim at creating a cashless society which will in turn bring a greater degree of accountability and transparency in all financial transactions. In the process, it will also create a massive amount of data. In fact, it will be a data driven economy.

Financial institutions will need cloud-based computing and storage to manage this massive data flow. It will also give them increased capacity to analyse real-time data and thereby facilitate the growth of data analytics and their various applications. This big data can also help financial institutions in not only understanding the financial processes, but it can also be effectively used for future projections. It will also enable financial services to be much more integrated bringing additional actors into the loop, from the moment a consumer makes a payment, to the task of processing the payment, and the payment being received by the service provider: for example, the case of Uber. All will be in a single financial loop. Our financial markets will be completely data-enabled and its efficiency totally data-driven.    

One area where digitalisation will have a profound impact on is the creation and growth of smart cities. The world is experiencing a rapid process of urbanisation, and by the year 2050, two-thirds of the global population will be living in urban spaces. The process of digitalisation will provide multiple e-platforms in smart city management, from traffic flow, waste management, energy distribution and management, and entertainment, to all other aspects of urban living.

With the increasing scarcity of resources, this will also provide an effective tool for resource sharing and management in urban spaces like water use, water recycling and water management. With the increased number of cars on the road, which will mostly be driverless, digitalisation will not only direct traffic flow, it will also bring a total traffic management solution in urban streets. A vital aspect of smart city management would be the way we manage and consume energy. It will enable us to focus on lean energy consumption lifestyle, effective green management for distribution, and renewable energy distribution and storage.

One of the big challenges of urban living is waste management. The digital process will also help in urban waste management policies through automated waste swapping, recycling and reuse. It will provide greater capacity for electronic waste management. In all, it will give us a capacity for urban circular economy. Since most of the service provisions will be on e-platforms, service delivery will be quick, efficient and accountable. Citizens will also have greater capacity to interact with city leaders directly through e-communication platforms, thereby holding them accountable. Since most of these smart cities will go vertical, for greater space management, citizens will need newer forms of entertainment facilities. Digital formats of entertainment will become a normal entertainment platform together with green space activity. As most things in city management will be based on Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Everything (IoET), there will be greater degree of human/machine augmentation resulting in higher degree of efficiency and minimum loss of time.    

Policymakers need to understand that digital transformation is not a one-time event but it proceeds in waves, driven by technological progress and utilisation of technologies. The current wave is certainly very significant and rapid; more are yet to come. The things that are shaping this wave are Big/Deep Data, Internet of Things/Everything (IoT or IoET), Robotics, 3D Printing, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Together, they create Digitalisation 4.0.

 

Major General ANM Muniruzzaman ndc, psc (Retd) is the President and CEO of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), a security think tank based in Dhaka. He can be reached via email at president@bipss.org.bd.

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