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Getting ready for AI, and the future of jobs and work

Today’s artificial intelligence (AI) enables faster and more profound progress in nearly every field of human endeavour, and it is essential to enabling the digital transformation that is at the heart of global economic development.

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WORLDWIDE revenue from AI will surge past US$46 billion in 2020, according to research firm IDC. In Asia-Pacific, this is projected to rise to US$6.8 billion by 2021.

Though researchers have been working on AI decades, development has accelerated in the past few years thanks to three factors – the ubiquitous availability of data, the growing capabilities of cloud computing, and more powerful algorithms developed by AI researchers.

Most recently, a team of Microsoft researchers have developed the first machine translation system that can translate sentences of news articles from Chinese to English with the same quality and accuracy as a person.

Throughout history, the emergence of new technologies has been accompanied by dire warnings about human redundancy. More often, however, the reality is that new technologies have created more jobs than they destroyed.

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A recent study by IDC and Microsoft in Asia-Pacific revealed that businesses are optimistic of the future powered by digital transformation, including with AI. They believe it will increase educational and training opportunities, create higher-value jobs, and increase personal income through freelance and digital work. 

Respondents also expect 93 per cent of jobs to be transformed in the next three years, and 62 per cent of jobs today to be redeployed to higher-value roles or reskilled to meet new demand. To be prepared, three key tasks need to be completed.

Because the skills required for jobs in the AI economy are changing so rapidly, we need to ensure that our systems for preparing, educating, training, and retraining the current and future workforce also evolve. Not only will the new AI economy require new technical skills, but there is a growing recognition that most workers will need to learn new skills throughout their working lives. 

Preparing students for future jobs with AI

Rapidly evolving technology impacting every sector means jobs of the future will require more digital skills, from basic computer literacy to advanced computer science. If our youths are to be the driving force for tomorrow’s digital economy, they need the opportunity to study computer science. 

Computer science teaches computational thinking, a different way to problem solve and a skill in high demand by employers. Together these skills enable access to higher paying jobs in faster-growing fields.

This is why Microsoft embarked on a two-year Digital Maker Programme together with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore, to help our youths in Singapore move beyond passive consumption of technology to develop a culture of creative problem-solving. 

By bringing technology, curriculum and real-world challenges together through the Digital Maker Programme, we hope to nurture future-ready youths who have “maker” mindsets.

Reskilling for tomorrow’s economy 

Because technology is changing so rapidly, it’s not enough to just focus on educating tomorrow’s workforce; we must also help today’s workers gain skills that are relevant in the changing workplace. 

Economic growth depends on a skilled workforce that can enable enterprises to take advantage of a new generation of emerging digital technology innovations. To achieve this, workers will need to be lifelong learners.

To support this, Microsoft has become a partner for the Government’s SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace programme which hopes to equip Singaporeans with the basic digital skills required at the workplace and in their daily lives. The programme is structured as a two-day training course that introduces critical areas such as cybersecurity as well as the interpretation and use of data. Through a hands-on, interactive and practical approach, participants will learn how to use common digital applications, build digital confidence, and adopt a positive mindset towards change, innovation and resilience. 

The key is equipping workers with the technical expertise and business acumen required to be able to thrive in a challenging business environment. This gives experienced, salaried workers a possible second career, while freelancers who are plugged into the gig economy can use the new skills they have picked up to prospect for new business and deliver results.

Ensuring sustainable development

The economy must be healthy and sustainable, as businesses invest in AI for the long run. There has to be a supportive environment to grow the AI talent pool, so there is sufficient expertise to make good use of the new technology.

In Singapore, Microsoft recently partnered with the IMDA to support its Industry Transformation Map (ITM), in preparation for a digital economy. The initiative aims to grow the infocomm media sector’s value-add by around 6 per cent annually and expects to contribute more than 210,000 workers to national economy. 

As part of IMDA’s Strategic Partners Programme, Microsoft will also partner with IMDA to help local tech companies scale up and build digital capabilities through joint development. These developments will spur higher adoption of AI, and at the same time, emphasise the importance of a healthy ecosystem in enabling partners from different industries to connect, creating more jobs and opportunities in the process.

Working together

As we move forward, it will be essential for governments, the private sector, academia, and the social sector to join together to explore how to best support workers in the new economy. This can be achieved by developing new approaches to training and education that enable people to acquire the skills that employers need as technology advances; by creating innovative ways to connect workers with job opportunities; and by modernising protections for workers to promote labour mobility and cushion workers and their families against uncertainty in a fast-changing global economy.

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