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The Human Factor

By Amanda Dominguez, Sam Ramos-Jones and Rexy Josh Dorado

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Amanda
Sam
Rexy
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Amanda Dominguez is a management and political consultant with over 5 years of key experience in media, sustainable development, public relations, and business process re-engineering. A political researcher, writer, and digital content curator, advocating for the democratization of public policy discussions in the Philippines. Rexy Josh Dorado is an entrepreneur and writer working to harness media, technology, and community networks to strengthen the global Filipino community.

Before humans learned to harness the power of fire, we ate meat as we found it: raw and bloody. The biggest drawback was how much time it took. Like present-day chimpanzees in Tanzania, our ancestors spent about half a day just chewing meat.1 And when we freed those hours up through the innovation of cooking, humanity rose up and used that time on activities other than basic survival and digestion. It allowed the human species to focus on inventing new tools and developing societies.

 

Technological discoveries have always gone hand-in-hand with our own discoveries of human capability. Steam-powered locomotion enabled rapid trade across an entire continent, and that accelerated the formation of economic clusters (cities) that specialized on certain trades and materials. The invention of the printing press initiated popular communications and brought literacy rates up with it, spurring market demand for a new generation of writers and journalists. Electricity enabled mass manufacturing, which created a groundswell of opportunities in factories and assembly lines. The first phase of digitization has paved the way for jobs in computer programming, web design, 3D animation, and online advertising -- jobs that scarcely existed a few decades ago.

 

At the same time, these developments obliterated old jobs and industries that were rendered obsolete by a more efficient way of doing things.

 

That long historical trend-line brings us to the rise of robots and automation today. In certain ways, it’s the same story: using technology to do what human effort used to do, but faster, better, and cheaper. It’s eliminating the need for humans in different roles and industries -- and creating new opportunities for them in fundamentally new types of work. There are more and more jobs bubbling up in robotics engineering, and the scope of opportunity for people who can imagine and blueprint new services and products that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) can deliver is growing more robust.

 

But in other ways, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence is fundamentally new. The scale and speed at which human tasks are being automated away has no historical precedent. And while it’s starkly clear that automation will destroy old jobs, it’s less certain that the other side of the historical narrative -- that these technologies will create more jobs than the ones they displace -- will continue to hold true. One study finds that only 0.5% of jobs in the 21st century are in new industries, compared to 8.2% in the 1980s and 4.4% in the 1990s.2 What’s more, several reports suggest that the distribution of jobs that will be disrupted and created by automation will be divided unevenly along lines of income, gender, and race.3

 

The stakes are high. For a country like the Philippines, where the grand majority of jobs that people hold -- whether in farms or call centers -- are ones that can be easily automated away, the impact of automation is particularly pressing. The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, which has thrived in the Philippines and created its new middle-class, may too come under threat, as advances in AI become a viable alternative to labor in certain services. Developing nations, like the Philippines, may see their comparative advantage in the global economy, borne out of cheaper labor, eroded as robotics and advanced manufacturing systems compete for what have hitherto been labor-intensive sectors.

 

As with big data, the outcome is far from predestined. The ultimate legacy of robots and artificial intelligence will hinge on how humanity navigates the next 10 years of its encounters with automation. As Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, put it:

 

“In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to ‘robotize’ humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.”

 

Can we unlock and tame the impact of technology in a way that leads to greater opportunity for all? In a century’s time, we may be able to look back and find an answer to that question.

 

In the meantime, the query begins not with “can we” but “how.” And the answer to that question begins with an inner exploration of who we are as a species. It brings us back to our prehistoric roots, to the unique gift that swept us from the stone age to modern cities: the ability to create, to learn together, to connect with one another. If we are to make it through the digital age, we must find an answer to the question: What is the human factor that sets us apart from the world of animals and machines around us?

 

 

Here comes the robot takeover

 

Like data, the advancement of robotic automation was largely triggered by the advent of digital. The first recorded robot was created in the fourth century B.C., a wooden bird invented by Greek mathematician Archytas that could move its wings up and down repeatedly through the input of compressed air and steam. Between then and the early 1900s, the extent of automation rarely moved beyond those simple mechanics of a fixed input -- like steam or electricity -- leading to a fixed script of outputs -- like wheels turning or wings moving up and down.

 

But digital technology came and blew open the horizons of what was possible for automation. Computers allowed programmers to create more and more sophisticated instructions for machines to execute. The Internet allowed engineers who were interested in robots to collaborate, share their findings, and build on each other’s work more quickly. Rapid manufacturing tools enabled faster creation and iteration of what robots could look like and how they could function. Crucially, the rise of big data has translated into more raw material for robotic brains -- that is, AI -- to process and to learn from.

 

Over just the past century, robots have evolved significantly in the kinds of mechanized tasks that they can execute. We now have rovers exploring space, robots that can build skyscrapers, and drones that can take overhead videos and deliver Amazon packages. Robotics company Boston Dynamics, one of the leaders of the field, has created robot animals that can carry combat equipment, as well as a humanoid robot named ATLAS that has come incredibly close to walking and operating tools the same way a human does.

 

But more important, robots have gone from just executing tasks to learning, making their own decisions, and reprogramming themselves to do things beyond what they’re scripted to do. Machine learning and specifically deep learning methodologies have modeled key features of the human brain in order to essentially allow machines to absorb unstructured information, extract meaning from it, and make decisions based on that knowledge. This is AI, and it’s powering everything from Facebook newsfeeds to facial recognition sensors. Over the past few decades, AI has managed to predict pop music hits, compose its own music, drive across continents, write “human-sounding” articles, script movies, and beat the world champions of Chess and Go.

 

These developments lead to two key points. The first is that the simple mechanization of repetitive tasks has gotten so efficient that it can easily displace human labor at massive scale in the near future. Second, the disruptive effects of automation may not end there. Already, robots and AI have shown their ability to do some work in legal4,5 and medical6 professions just as well as humans can, but for less time and less money.

 

If humanity is to remain relevant in the age of automation, we must start with a transformation in the kinds of skills that our society fosters and the kind of industries we create. Our talent market must shift from the way they are now, a relic of a world before automation, to what they need to be for the future.

 

That future already exists -- here, today, in plain view, hidden in our social media feeds and buzzing in our skies, foreshadowing the coming century in which robots and AI will be the norm.

 

 

Human capital for the 21st century

 

What is the “before” and “after” of the kind of transformation we need to undergo? According to a study by the University of Oxford, the jobs most prone to being replaced by automation include telemarketers, tax preparers, referees, farm labor, administrative assistance, and couriers. On the reverse side, mental health workers, psychologists, human resource managers, computer systems analysts, salespeople, and chief executives rounded out the list of roles that were most resistant to being displaced by technology.7

 

“If we start with the assumption that the things that can get automated away will,” said Teach for the Philippines CEO Clarissa Delgado, “then the jobs that are going to last the test of time will be jobs that involve creative thinking, managing people, problem solving, and the ability to create and design new systems.”

 

Experts at the OCEAN 2016 panel agreed that the “human factor” in a world of automation was going to hinge on the twin abilities of creativity and empathy. That’s creativity in the sense of being able to generate something new and unpredictable, and empathy in the sense of being able to understand and manage the complexity of human behavior. Even as AI begins to step into industries like music and film, the kind of creativity that breaks from the patterns of the past remains out of reach of even the best algorithms. And the level of empathy needed to operate in a human society and workplace is rooted in emotions and instincts that robots have yet to emulate.

 

Incidentally, these two abilities are not only resistant to automation. They’re also particularly important for our moment in time, one that’s defined by rapid change, complexity, and connectivity.

 

“You go into a conversation like this one about ‘The Future of Talent’ and you expect people to talk about computer science and engineering,” said Julius Paras, Senior Vice President of online recruitment startup Kalibrr, “but really, what it boils down to is these human things -- like creativity, empathy, passion, and perseverance.”

 

That’s not to say that technical skills are any less important. But the specific nature of those technical skills will change dramatically as technological change continues to speed up. At the foundation of success in the coming century is an understanding of change as the new norm, and the ability to adapt to that change in a proactive way.

 

The challenge lies in taking these ideas and implementing them in our education system. Education systems around the world haven’t changed much in the past century -- certainly not enough to keep up with how much the world around it has transformed in the same span of time. The result is that outdated schools are preparing children to play roles that no longer exist in a world that is quickly fading into the past. At the OCEAN panel on talent, experts spoke of how traditional certifications and educational requirements were out of step with rapidly evolving market needs, and were thus no longer helpful for the enterprises they needed to build. For example, Lynn Pinugu, co-founder of Mano Amiga Academy, has no formal training in education herself, and neither does she require that type of background for her teacher hires.

 

Luckily, informal educators and grassroots school movements have stepped up where education policy has lagged behind. Citizen ventures like Andela and Samasource have taken on the responsibility of training people across Asia and Africa for tech roles. At OCEAN, Ellwyn Tan of Bagosphere shared how his venture brings together microfinance and a vocational program as a way to prepare talent from Negros Occidental to work in emerging industries. Habi Education Lab in the Philippines and The Future Project in the United States are reskilling teachers to become design thinkers, innovators, and movement leaders in their schools. Ashoka’s Changemakers Schools, Ashoka U’s Changemaker Campuses, and Ashoka Fellow Sharath Jeevan’s “teacher innovation networks” at STIR Education are forging new communities of practice made of teachers, administrators, and entrepreneurs working to shape an “Everyone a Changemaker” education system. The challenge now is to take the stirrings of new solutions from small-scale endeavors and bring them into the fabric of how schools operate broadly.

 

Finally, one of the key elements of a learning system that promotes creativity and empathy is diversity.  Diversity creates a multi-skilled and creative training environment that uniquely situates both students and teachers in a position to “evolve as quickly as the world is evolving.” Liza Cariaga-Lo, Vice President for Academic Development, Diversity and Inclusion at Brown University, stressed at OCEAN that diversity has been, and will remain to be, the critical factor in producing the innovative thinkers we will need to solve the problems of tomorrow – problems that we can scarcely conceive of today.

 

The good news is that technology enables this as well. Rexy Josh Dorado of Kaya Collaborative, an initiative to connect Filipinos across the diaspora to entrepreneurs and leaders in the Philippines, shared his venture as just one example of how technology brings disparate or fragmented groups to work together. Collaboration platforms, social media communities, and the ability to target using data -- in Kaya Collaborative’s case, aggregating everyone around the world with an interest in Filipino culture, food, and media -- allow people to find and connect with each other across the globe.

 

Ultimately, if society is able to navigate the disruptive forces of automation, technology will leave us, once again, at a better place to solve the problems at our hands. Robots can one day help us accomplish tasks with less effort and less waste. Artificial intelligence can help us process problems at a scale and speed that is right now unimaginable. And the process of finding our place in an automated world can help us grow into our unique capacity as human. In the words of Kevin Kelly, founding Executive Editor of WIRED:

 

“We need to let robots take over. They will do jobs we have been doing, and do them much better than we can. They will do jobs we can’t do at all. They will do jobs we never imagined even needed to be done. And they will help us discover new jobs for ourselves, new tasks that expand who we are. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were.”

 

 

Work is dead; long live work

 

At the same time that we prepare for the jobs of the future, we need to think seriously about the possibility that the future of jobs may be no jobs at all.

 

In the United States, the number of self-employed freelancers increased by more than 500% between 2005 and 2014.8 In the Philippines, millions of people access opportunities through freelancing portals like Freelancer, Upwork, and Raket.ph. Dubbed the “gig economy”, this is becoming the new norm of how people access opportunity -- not as traditional employees for one company, but as independent workforces who move fluidly from project to project.

 

There’s an important distinction to be made between genuine “gig” work and its close cousin, exploitative short-term contracting that serves to benefit companies who are unwilling to pay benefits to its employees. There’s also something to be said about the extra burdens and uncertainty that comes with being a freelancer. But ultimately, the gig economy has opened up more access for people to work on what they care about. A look at a website like Upwork shows that some of the most common projects are in creative or technological fields -- graphic design, web design, copywriting -- which serve to prepare more people for an economy that will soon be driven by creative capacity.

 

The gig economy is only the beginning. The digital revolution is also beginning to usher in a renaissance of self-employed creatives in industries like art, culture, food, fashion, and beyond. Winston Damarillo, Chairman of Amihan Global Strategies, referred to it as the “indiepreneur” movement -- the rise of independent creators who are empowered by technology to sustain their livelihoods around their creative passions.

 

While the small business conversation in the Philippines has focused on traditional MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) like sari-sari stores on one hand and fast-growing tech startups on the other hand, Damarillo asserts that the future hinges on the success of this new breed of small-scale creators. Their creativity is important not only in the sense of creating products and adding to the local economy, but especially in the creation of creative, abstract, empathy-driven, and deeply “human” jobs that can outlast the shifts in the labor market.

 

These indiepreneurs are exemplified in the Philippines by community-based artisans, indie filmmakers, and musicians who are able to tap into technological tools as a way to generate income. They are furniture designers who can now create prototypes and products more quickly because of technologies like 3D printers and laser cutters. They are bloggers who are able to reach and mobilize a massive base of followers through Facebook and Instagram. They are shoemakers who can make an online storefront in less than 10 minutes through eBay, Wordpress, or Shopify. They are everyday people with ideas in their heads who can now raise money from friends to turn that idea into reality.

 

One of those crowdfunders is Richard Dacalos, creator of the board game Upstart, which simulates the process of starting a new business. “In the board game industry, independents used to have to go to Mattel or Parker Brothers to manufacture their idea. Now they can go directly to the crowd. That’s changed the game for us.”

 

“Digital has changed the way we work in film,” said Pepe Diokno, filmmaker. “Two of the most successful Filipino films of the past couple of years wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for digital platforms. Heneral Luna was marketed primarily through the Internet. That Thing Called Tadhana was helped by crowdfunding.”

 

At the heart of it, the Internet allows more businesses to enter the marketplace by drastically reducing barriers to entry. Look no further than Youtube and Facebook Video, which have nearly eliminated the cost of creating videos, enabling everyday people to challenge and outperform film studios and cinemas. That is the ultimate promise of the indiepreneur movement -- not only democratizing the power to create businesses and products, but also clearing the path for something unexpected and truly original to break through.

 

“With this digital revolution, the Philippines is not our market,” said Francis Oliva, head of community partnerships at PLDT SME Nation. “The world is our market. But in order to get there you need traction and support in your country.”

 

 

Towards a creative Philippines

 

Creative entrepreneurship and creative employment are currently outpacing traditional entrepreneurship and employment around the world.9,10 This is good news at a time when automation is putting non-creative sectors at risk; it’s even better news considering employment in creative industries is more equitable and inclusive than non-creative industries.11 The development of a strong creative sector, then, can create a new and inclusive market of opportunities at just the moment when robots and AI are eliminating opportunities and widening inequality.

 

This won’t happen by itself. If the Philippine labor force is to survive and thrive in the digital future, the nation must invest in internet infrastructure, policies, and strategic initiatives that promote creative talent and creative entrepreneurship -- the type of work and business that will outlast the disruptive force of automation.

 

The first piece of the puzzle is investing in shared resources and infrastructure that allow people to thrive as creators. The most foundational component is, once again, internet infrastructure. “The biggest benefit of businesses transitioning to the digital economy is that it’s cheaper, faster, and more transparent,” said Mikko Perez, whose company Ayannah creates financial services for the unbanked in the Philippines.

 

But there are also other types of infrastructure for governments and civil society to invest in. Shared resources for creatives that have gained momentum over the past decade include co-working spaces and fabrication labs, which allow people to pay less in order to access, rather than own, resources like office space and manufacturing respectively. Shared resources in the form of best practices by market could be valuable, says Kevin Dela Cruz, consultant for the Department of Social Welfare and Development, “particularly in East and Southeast Asia, where you have similar products with similar methods of production.”

 

The speakers at OCEAN’s “Powering Small Business” session unanimously called for a shift in culture: embracing digital technology, collaborating across boundaries, and supporting local creative businesses. Together, these values form an adaptive, creative culture that’s able to generate opportunity in the face of an increasingly ambiguous and complex environment.

 

The conversations at OCEAN are beginning to lead to collaborations on this note: among them, I’m In, an upcoming TV show modeled after Shark Tank which will aim to fund over 100 indiepreneurs in 2018, and a technology and creative industry festival which takes its inspiration from South by Southwest. “If you look at the Korean media industry - think K-Pop and Korean dramas - it’s something that was very much supported locally, and went on to reach a huge following around the world,” said Pepe Diokno, filmmaker. “My hope is that it’ll be the same story with the Philippines - that we work together to lift our culture and our stories in a way that carries over globally.”

 

Policy in the Philippines must aggressively and intentionally support the development of creative industries. Speakers stressed the need for government to offer better tax incentives to small businesses in creative and innovative fields. “The film industry faces a 10% amusement tax,” said Diokno. “That’s less than it used to be, but still a lot compared to South Korea, which has a quota system, grants, and tax breaks for movies.” Others took inspiration from PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority), which provides tax incentives for companies based in IT parks business districts, and wondered if that model could be applied to smaller economic zones for independent creatives.

 

And at the end of it all, we need to be prepared for the shift in the talent market to be violent, unequal, and disruptive -- even if we manage to get everything right. Over the past few years, leaders from across sectors have risen up to back the idea of a universal basic income, or UBI: a guaranteed payment for every citizen to pay for their living costs, no questions asked, no strings attached. It may seem far-fetched, but the movement continues to gain momentum, specifically as a way to hedge against the threat of automation. Experiments have been or will soon be underway in places as diverse as Finland, California, Namibia, India, Brazil, and Manitoba. The results have been mixed, but more hopeful than one might guess: crime tends to go down, entrepreneurship tends to go up.12

 

As Scott Santens writes on the World Economic Forum Agenda:

 

“Humans need security to thrive, and basic income is a secure economic base – the new foundation on which to transform the precarious present, and build a more solid future. [...] Poverty is not a supernatural foe, nor is extreme inequality or the threat of mass income loss due to automation. They are all just choices. And at any point, we can choose to make new ones.”

 

Robots and AI have the power to disrupt the human enterprise in a very short span of time. Do we disrupt ourselves before it happens? Do we try to reject the future, do we step into it with blind optimism, or do we commit ourselves fully to engaging with all its dangers and promises? The choice, as always, is ours to make.

footnotes
Annotations
Rexy Josh Dorado :
"Ashoka, an organization that pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship, calls this an “Everyone a Changemaker” world -- where empathy, creativity, and collaborative problem solving are the norm at the individual and institutional level."
Amanda Dominguez :
"What is remarkable about the rise and democratization of automation and artificial intelligence, is that it provides us with an opportunity to explore and strengthen our uniquely human traits -'creativity, empathy, passion, and perseverance.' Since operational tasks can be completed by machines and algorithms, we can now allocate our time and efforts to creative problem-solving with socially responsible outcomes."
Micaela Beltran :
"It is interesting to think about where the gig economy could be going. On the one hand, it seems like this trend will keep growing no matter what, on the other, we are starting to see a decline in people who need the gig economy as they find better jobs in a boom economy. Most people still seem to prefer a stable job over gigs. But is this generational? I think millennials will avidly choose to grow the gig economy to its full extent, even in this era of working class anxiety."
Citations
1
 Handwerk, Brian. "A Taste for Raw Meat May Have Helped Shape Human Evolution." Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 09 Mar. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/taste-raw-meat-may-have-helped-shape-human-evolution-180958371/>.
2
 "Wealth Creation, Not Job Creation Is Impact of Tech Industries: Oxford Martin School Study Shows That Less than 0.5% of US Jobs Have Been Created by Technology Industries so Far This Century." Oxford Martin School. N.p., 02 Dec. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/151202_new_industries>.
3
 "The Future of Jobs." The Future of Jobs. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/>.
4
 News, CBS. "This Robot Lawyer Could Help You Get Your Parking Ticket Dismissed." CBS News. CBS Interactive, 21 July 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/donotpay-bot-lawyer-helps-dismiss-parking-tickets-joshua-browder/>.
5
 Turner, Karen. "Meet ‘Ross,’ the Newly Hired Legal Robot." The Washington Post. WP Company, 16 May 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/05/16/meet-ross-the-newly-hired-legal-robot/?utm_term=.da68c94a7181>.
6
 Parkin, Simon. "The Artificially Intelligent Doctor Will Hear You Now." MIT Technology Review. Intelligent Machines, 9 March 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600868/the-artificially-intelligent-doctor-will-hear-you-now/>
7
 Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Business.
8
 "Goodbye, 9-5! The Growth of the Freelance Economy." Paychex. N.p., 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://www.paychex.com/articles/human-resources/goodbye-9-5-growth-of-the-freelance-economy>.
9
  "National Endowment for the Arts." Arts and Cultural Production Contributed $704.2 Billion to the U.S. Economy in 2013 | NEA. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <https://www.arts.gov/news/2016/arts-and-cultural-production-contributed-7042-billion-us-economy-2013>.
10
 Creative Industries Collective. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.thecreativeindustries.co.uk/uk-creative-overview/news-and-views/news-creative-jobs-and-exports-outgrow-rest-of-economy>.
11
 "New Times In Cultural Studies." Postmodernism And Popular Culture (n.d.): 24-43. Cultural Times. International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, Dec. 2015. Web. <http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-cultural-times-2015/$FILE/ey-cultural-times-2015.pdf>.
12
 Santens, Scott. "Why We Should All Have a Basic Income." World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum, 15 Jan. 2017. Web. <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/why-we-should-all-have-a-basic-income>.
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Authors
Amanda Dominguez

Amanda Dominguez is a management and political consultant with over 5 years of key experience in media, sustainable development, public relations, and business process re-engineering.

Sam Ramos-Jones

A political researcher, writer, and digital content curator, advocating for the democratization of public policy discussions in the Philippines.

Rexy Josh Dorado

Rexy Josh Dorado is an entrepreneur and writer working to harness media, technology, and community networks to strengthen the global Filipino community.

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