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Reskilling urged to shore up jobs as AI sweeps in

Sep 28. 2018
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INTERVENTION by the government is needed as the labour market heads toward major job losses due to recent and future waves of technological innovation, a recent seminar has heard.

Deep and disruptive impacts are coming to the employment market as new technologies perform human tasks, and government will need to implement measures to prepare younger generations to cope with what is rapidly approaching, experts said.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already making headway in performing tasks once considered out of their reach and solely in the realm of robots in science fiction. Thus, there’s a need for the government to reinvent the labour market to ensure future jobs, said Nuthasid Rukkiatwong, a researcher from Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

He was speaking at a recent seminar titled “Thailand Moves Forward with AI Technology” at the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre’s (Nectec) annual conference and exhibition.

According to Nuthasid’s research on AI, there are now 8.2 million Thais working in high-risk occupations, or jobs where the estimated likelihood of them being replaced by AI is over 70 per cent.

The research found that more than half of workers at high risk of losing their jobs from technological disruption have both low education and low income.

They include retail salespeople, clerks, drivers, machine operators and manufacturing assembly workers.

Some professionals, including lawyers, underwriters and radiologists, are also at risk of losing their jobs from technological disruption, he said.

The researcher said that while in some cases it might make sense for the government to take direct action in reskilling its workforce, such as providing training courses, the modern economy is too complicated for such an initiative to be feasible on a large scale.

He suggested instead that reskilling be accelerated by promoting the competitive training market.

“Such a measure includes, but is not limited to, grants and subsidies for private training providers, a training cost subsidy for workers, and a comprehensive information system for training courses,” Nuthasid said.

These measures have been implemented abroad and the regime would be wise to imitate them, he added.

“Any failure to do so would diminish the competitiveness of our nation, thereby reducing growth and prosperity, while at the same time threatening social cohesion by dividing people into those who can take advantage of AI and automation technologies, and those who can’t,” he added.

Coming revolution

AI has played a major role in market and would absolutely revolutionise Thailand, the seminar agreed in consensus.

One of the figures supporting that contention was found in research from KPMG, a professional service company. They found venture capital investment into AI and machine learning (ML) had doubled to $12 billion (Bt388 billion) in 2017 from $6 billion in 2016, said Panachit Kittipanya-ngam, president of Thailand Tech Start-up Association.

He also cited a forecast from Tractica, a market intelligence firm, that annual worldwide AI revenue would grow from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025.

“AI will absolutely revolutionise Thailand and the shape of employment will change. So, if we fail to develop human resources we may lose the opportunity to foreign workforces,” he emphasised.

The seminar speakers sought answers for how the Kingdom could adapt itself to stay above the wave of disruption, along with defining the characteristics, skill sets and attitudes young Thais will need to cope with the trend.

Thanaruk Theeramunkong, president of Artificial Intelligence Association of Thailand, said he believes AI will overtake humans in 50 to 60 years and so educational authorities should design textbook to teach children about the technology.

Future learning process should also transform the roles of teachers and students, he advised.

“Due to the [technology] disruption, students may not need to learn from teachers. The latter will change their role from teaching to guiding,” said Thanaruk, who is also a lecturer at Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology at Thammasat University. 

Chai Wutiwiwatchai, director of Human Computer Communication Research Unit, Nectec, argued for the country making big changes to enable adaptation to the coming age of AI.

“The next generation of Thais should be socialised as people who can think, are hands on and rely on themselves,” he said. In the past, they could be advanced thinkers but were unable to implement their ideas due to a lack of hands-on skills, the director added.

Surawut Pornthabthong, a solutions architect at Thailand Amazon Web Services, built on Chai’s suggestion. “We should try to differentiate the next generation, create them to each have their individual value, and to be unique, so they don’t have to compete in the same market,” he said.

“That could be their way to survive.”

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