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Wednesday, December 14, 2016, 22:19

Technology’s rise sparks job fears

By Lin Wenjie

How much can technology help the economy? Or in which way it can? Scholars debated the issue in Hong Kong on Wednesday at a time when economics seems to have been redefined.

At a forum organized by the Asia Global Institute of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), entitled “Technology’s Impact on Education and the Global Economy”, concern was expressed that job losses arising from technological development will dampen economic growth.

But, experts at the panel discussion allayed such fears, emphasizing that technological advance not only helps to create more jobs, it also makes it easier for unemployed workers to get re-educated.

Victor Fung Kwok-king, advisory board chairman of the Asia Global Institute, urged society to create more new jobs to offset reduced employment.

He admitted that while technology has brought about the need to create jobs, people “cannot avoid the fact that technology is also destroying jobs”.

People have to ensure that the pace of creating new jobs should be faster than that of reducing jobs, he pointed out.

“I believe that technology can transform our lives”, said Peter Mathieson, HKU president, adding that he’s “extraordinarily optimistic” about the future.

More specifically, he said, unemployment is unlikely to continue deteriorating because there is “an explosion of needs” in the caring sector. People who have lost their jobs to technologies will be needed to care for the world’s aging population.

His idea is in line with a 2015 study conducted by economists at global consulting group Deloitte. The study showed that the advent of technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed.

The study also detected a “profound shift”, with labor switching from its historic role to the caring, education and the provision of services to others. An analysis of the UK Labour Force Survey from the Office for National Statistics of the UK suggests that between 1992 and 2014, the number of workers in nursing auxiliaries and assistants in similar services soared 909 percent from 29,743 to 300,201.

Another panelist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Rafael Reif agreed that society needs to embrace the changes brought about by the rise of technology, rather than blaming it for proceeding too fast.

“There’s always the case for technology to destroy jobs, from horse-carriages to cars, it has never stopped”, he said. “What society needs to do now is to recognize the change and to respond.”

Reif believed that universities have a special responsibility to retrain workers who have lost their jobs to robots.

Since technology is also an important pillar for innovation and entrepreneurship, university students will be able to create more jobs.

Mathieson also acknowledged the importance of education.

He said universities will be the answer to society’s many problems, especially when technology is making it easier for people to learn.

Teaching can now be done outside the classroom through multi-media technology, and only universities are at times conservative and slow in making changes. “They need to be more versatile, quicker and be able to adapt to the changing world,” Mathieson said.

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