There are “compelling reasons for optimism” about job development in Asia despite increasing automation, a leading economist told an audience of business, diplomacy and media professionals at Asia House.
Juzhong Zhuang, Deputy Chief Economist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), was speaking at Asia House for the UK launch of the ADB’s Asian Development Outlook report.
Focusing on the impact of technology on jobs, the report is broadly positive, predicting that robotics and artificial intelligence will increase job creation rather than erode it.
According to Zhuang, “new technology often involves automating specific tasks, not the job entirely,” meaning that tech innovations alone will not displace jobs. Furthermore, emerging technologies give rise to “new occupations and industries,” he said.
The use of automation is mostly concentrated in sectors with a smaller share of the workforce, Zhuang observed, showing that robotic sales are considerably higher in the automative and technology industries than in catering and textiles.
The broad message was that the efficiencies that tech developments will bring to Asian economies will increase prosperity across the region, but that policy action is required to ensure populations are able to capitalise on these changes.
That was something Nazir Razak, Chairman of CIMB Group, touched on in a speech following Zhuang’s presentation, in which he emphasised the need for greater integration within ASEAN in order for it to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution does not recognise national borders,” he said, using e-commerce and the associated need to share data as an example of how conditions must be improved if the region is to flourish in 4IR.
“ASEAN can and must help its companies to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he said, adding that if they don’t, “their markets will be won by global players.”
Government policy, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the rapid developments in tech were then explored in a panel session, chaired by Asia House Chief Executive, Michael Lawrence.
Alec McCullie, Associate Director and UK Lead for Industry 4.0 at KPMG, and Jinny Yan, Chief China Economist, China Markets Strategy, ICBC Standard Bank were joined by Juzhong Zhuang to discuss the broader themes of 4IR and how it will impact on jobs.
McCullie emphasised the need to consider all the elements of what is a complex issue, rather than focusing on specific, perhaps more newsworthy areas such as robotics.
“We need to think holistically – not just about automation in manufacturing. It’s about data analysis, it’s about supply chains which then leads to the factory floor,” he said.
Yan meanwhile highlighted the fast-paced nature of developments in tech, which creates challenges for policymakers.
“We have fintech, and now we have regtech – around the legal profession and regulation. These are new sectors.
“No one can predict what tech will bring,” she said.
The conference provided useful analysis on the impact of digitalisation in Asian economies – an issue which will feature prominently at Asia House’s major conference in Dubai on 22 April.
Read the Asian Development Outlook 2018: How Technology Affects Jobs