Elections, AI & jobs

While campaigning for the remaining phases of general elections, politicians should provide strategies to ensure that AI creates more new jobs than the ones it would render redundant

Elections, AI & jobs

As India’s political parties gear up their strategies for the remaining phases of the general elections, it may be good if their campaigns, going forward, could see mention of how they would like to address the mounting challenge that increased sophistication of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies potentially poses to numerous legacy white-collar jobs – be that of call centre staff, legal clerks, etc. – in the world’s most populous nation.

It could be even better if prominent political leaders could specifically provide some inkling of the strategy that they have in mind to ensure that AI creates more new jobs than the ones that are likely to be rendered redundant in the country due to greater use of the technology in various sectors. And, also, share their thoughts on the kind of safety net that, should their parties come to power, would be put in place to take care of the interests of those whose job losses may be directly attributable to AI deployment.

Political parties doing so would be in the fitness of things since employment figures in the list of major issues on which the current Lok Sabha polls are being fought. India’s 7-phase general elections, which began on April 19, will conclude on June 1.

Unfortunately, the issue of AI and its impact on jobs has hardly figured during campaigning by different political parties during the first two phases of the general elections. The reason behind leaders choosing to steer clear of the AI vis-à-vis jobs topic during their rallies, thus far, is unclear.

Former Infosys board member V Balakrishnan finds the absence of the discussion on AI unacceptable.

In response to this writer’s query on whether the AI vis-à-vis jobs issue should figure prominently in the political discourse during the ongoing election process, Balakrishnan said:

“AI is the next industrial revolution which will jumpstart productivity, boost global growth and raise incomes around the world. But it could also result in reduction of jobs and deepen inequality. There are various estimates which say 30-40 per cent of the jobs worldwide will be affected by AI and the situation in India, too, is similar.”

“Unless the government acts quickly and improves the job situation in India, the demographic dividend touted earlier as an advantage could become a demographic disaster,” Balakrishnan pointed out.

In a video posted on the social media platform X on January 17, 2024 related to the AI’s impact on jobs, IMF’s first deputy managing director Gita Gopinath had said that 40 per cent of the jobs in the world are “exposed to AI”, with that number being 60 per cent in the US and 26 per cent in “low-income countries”. She had pointed out that the positive side of this AI “exposure” was that it could raise productivity but, on the downside, could lead to “displacement” of workers.

Gopinath had concluded the video with the message that it was “important for countries to make sure that their labour market policies and their tax policies are consistent with this technology being on net (a) benefit to humans”.

Earlier, in “The Future of Job Report 2023”, the World Economic Forum (WEF) had said: “Artificial intelligence, a key driver of potential algorithmic displacement, is expected to be adopted by nearly 75 per cent of surveyed companies and is expected to lead to high churn – with 50 per cent of organisations expecting it to create job growth and 25 per cent expecting it to create job losses.”

Now, let’s cut to India. While there has already been much talk about how AI deployment could fast-track India’s economic growth, make local companies more productive, etc., the picture is still hazy on how soon and to what extent AI will generate fresh jobs to make up for the ones that it may potentially render redundant in the country.

Unfortunately, there has been no detailed India-specific study carried out by a domestic institution on how AI may impact various job roles in different segments of the organised sector, since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022 redefined the artificial intelligence landscape.

The reason as to why such a data-backed, industry sector-wise and job role-wise study – which could have provided a better idea to India’s current and prospective workforce on how their careers may be impacted by AI – has not been conducted remains a mystery. Especially in the light of the fact that the Indian workforce does not stand to gain much from mere macro projections on how AI could impact the job scenario worldwide and, also, not benefit in a major way from grand statements on how the technology can be a potential gamechanger for the nation.

Way forward

For a country which aims to leverage technology in a major way to fuel its growth ambition and is committed to the principle of ‘development for all’, coming up with ways to ensure that the tech acts as a force for good for everyone becomes imperative. The impact of AI on jobs in India emerging as a bigger topic of discussion in local political circles – even while the elections are on – may, thus, only be apt.

A wish list in this connection for our political parties would include:

✼ Talk about the AI vis-à-vis jobs issue during election rallies.

✼ Point out that while AI can create new jobs, it can also destroy some existing ones even in India.

✼ Underline what steps would be taken to ensure that greater deployment of AI leads to more new jobs being generated than ones rendered redundant.

✼ Specify what safety net would be created for those whose job losses are directly attributable to AI, and

✼ State what steps would be taken to ensure that all those in the working age group (15-59 years) can have easy access to training in sophisticated AI technologies.

At the end of the day, AI should work for people and not the other way around. Even as it pulls out all stops to realise its aspiration of becoming a developed nation by 2047, India going the extra mile to ensure that greater use of artificial intelligence technologies leads to the creation of more, new, and better-quality jobs is possibly one of the best ways through which it can improve the quality of life of citizens.

Owing to their pivotal position in society, political leaders are one of the biggest drivers of change. A display of greater intent on their part to discuss and evolve ways through which AI can transform the employment scenario in India for the better would, thus, be nice to see.

The writer is a current affairs commentator. Views expressed are personal

Next Story
Share it