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Workers must find jobs robots cannot do

Office workers in Shenton Way.
Office workers in Shenton Way. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The biggest threat to our employees is not disruptive technology, but automation and robots ("Challenge for S'pore workers to change with times"; last Sunday).

Machines are mastering ever more intricate tasks, such as translating texts or diagnosing illnesses. Robots are also becoming capable of manual labour that used to be carried out only by dexterous humans.

This is worrisome for the underemployed and unskilled. Our workers must invest in themselves and continue to find jobs that are harder for machines to replicate, for example, jobs that require original ideas like creative advertising, complex social interaction or a blend of analysis and dexterity.

Just because a job is deemed at risk of automation does not mean it will be replaced soon.

The cheap labour in relation to capital affects the rate of automation. Scale also matters for firms that are too small to benefit from automation.

For some firms that have been around for decades, how they have always done things is part of their heritage.

Not all customers like automation either. Some prefer the personal touch.

Eventually, though, as self-aware robots are developed, they will become more intelligent than humans.

As automation and robotics gradually facilitate the creation of a modern form of capitalism, they will allow greater production, with less human capital and overheads.

More automation and robots help companies make greater profits, grow faster and employ fewer workers.

In capitalism, growth is determined by production. Thus, automation and robotics are the fuel that will drive our future growth.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline 'Workers must find jobs robots cannot do'. Print Edition | Subscribe