Artificial Intelligence should not be seen as a threat, it will create more jobs: Nasscom VP KS Viswanathan

According to KS Viswanathan, vice president for Industry Initiatives as Nasscom, AI and machine learning will not really steal your jobs, but in fact will create more jobs.

Artificial Intelligence is slowly but surely coming into the mainstream conversations of late. With every single smart device having ambitions to be intelligent from the get go, and the ongoing research in this field by technology giants has ensured that AI is here to stay. Google, IBM, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft among others have already formed an AI partnership to create more awareness about AI and also lay down standards for future researchers to abide by.

But AI paired with machine learning is also proving to be a detriment for existing jobs. An Economist report from 2016 claims that in the jobs in the US that are at a high risk of being lost to AI and deep learning and include transport and logistics, office support, among others.

Last week, a report in The Economic Times claimed that IT professionals over 35 were also vulnerable to losing their jobs to machines and AI in the near future. After having spoken to IT professionals and an IT company, that fear has been laid to rest. But according to KS Viswanathan, vice president for Industry Initiatives at Nasscom, AI and machine learning will not really steal your jobs, but in fact will create more jobs.

"I would not call artificial intelligence a threat. Several decades ago a lot of public sector banks came on to the core banking platform. The core banking solution improved the bank's efficiency. It was not a threat to the banker's jobs, but it freed their time to do more core banking related work, than just manual tasks. With artificial intelligence, the IT industries want to focus on improving efficiencies and productivity," said Viswanathan.

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Image: Reuters

Yes automation in various industries is a matter of concern. But on the flip side, it also means that human intelligence can be put to better use than just doing repetitive tasks. That you will need to upgrade your skillsets is a given if you want to survive. But claims like mid-level IT professionals looking at losing their jobs to machines, is generalising things.

Viswanathan says that AI, deep learning, machine learning are all tools which focus on increasing efficiency and productivity. One of the reasons AI didn't play a huge role some decades ago, was due to the simple fact that computing power and efficiencies weren't the best. Human intelligence was still needed in a lot of jobs. It is still needed. But some level of automation in some sectors is bound to happen.

"With the progress in technology, now with AI and machine learning, along with IoT, we are getting the ability to play around with more and more data. So definitely there has to be some skill-related training to help people analyse that data. So there will be emphasis on productivity. New jobs will be created eventually, and they will be different from what we have currently," said Viswanathan.

According to Viswanathan, IT companies are leveraging capacity to increase productivity for the customer. He dismisses doomsday talk when it comes to AI and machine learning giving an analogy of how it was predicted many decades ago that automation in the agricultural sector would wipe out the jobs of farmers. On the contrary, it has increased agricultural production over the years, thereby lifting the economic output in that sector.

"Reskilling is required on two levels — for the younger workforce, called as the digital millennials, as well as for the managerial role employees who may be between 40-45 years of age. Reskilling of employees is required to keep them up to date on the changing landscapes, so that they are ready to face any challenges 4-5 years down the line," says Viswanathan.

And it's not like things aren't happening on ground to address the issue. Nasscom set up a Centre of Excellence for Internet of Things (IoT) in partnership with the govt of India, industry players, academia and others. The idea behind the CoE is to create a curriculum to address two needs.

"One is the fundamental curriculum for colleges (which would make its way in the 6th or 7th semesters of engineering or technology graduation courses) and the second is back to school (for the executive who needs to be reskilled). For the latter, the curriculum for his or her particular industry has already been drafted and is in the final stages of going live," observed Viswanathan.

The Centre of Excellence for IoT is expected to act like a training and skilling ground for students, to come and do projects in IoT and related fields. It will be a sort of an incubator for startups, so to speak. According to Viswanathan, the participating students will have access to material from academia, Nasscom, the IT industry case studies among others. That is the way the industry is responding to the change that is required.

Image: Nasscom

Image: Nasscom

Another area where Nasscom is quite invested in is data sciences. "The Centre of Excellence for Data Sciences will include analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence as its core subjects. There are already two states which have given approval in its creation. It will be a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model where the central and state govts, industries, academia will be working together to create capacity. It may not have a physical lab for testing, as all the tools for its learning will be in the cloud. It is a virtual infrastructure which is being created," said Viswanathan.

The idea that the IT industry as well as Nasscom has is to leverage the strength of India's IT prowess and think about how one can create alternate capacities for the emerging areas, three to five years from now.

"It is a parallel activity which the govt, Nasscom and industry has taken to build competency. It will lead to a variety of people coming into the job pool, than what we had in the past. People with varied skill sets than your traditional Oracle, SAP, Java experts and so on," says Viswanathan.

One thing is for certain: the change in the industry will be much faster than what is anticipated thanks to the rapid evolution of technology. Viswanathan reminisces how back in the early 1980s when IT in India was just about getting started, there were no IT or Computer Science graduates.

"Eventually the industry came together and created a whole program, just like say NIIT created courses to train people interested in acquiring these skills. It is happening now as well to gear up for future changes, which will be much faster than we anticipate. These changes are being considered across all levels such as Nasscom, the govts, IT industries and so on. So if people don't adopt them, then that would only be a disadvantage for them," says Viswanathan.

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