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The robots are coming

Apr 26,2019
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A Festo employee demonstrates the operation of a robot with a so-called “BionicSoftHand” at the Hannover Industry Fair in Hannover, Germany, on March 31. [EPA/YONHAP]
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Hong Seung-il
The author is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo Design.

The AlphaGo versus Lee Se-dol match three years ago was a milestone in which a machine for the first time took down the human champion in the ancient game of Go. The 18-time Korean national world champion managed to save face with one win against the algorithm software in the five-game match that was streamed live across the world. Through the feat of DeepMind, Google was able to dominate over 70 percent of the fledgling artificial intelligence (AI) market. Google estimated the match had achieved a multimillion-dollar market effect. The Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Seoul also benefited from a stream of guests of AI engineers and Go players because it hosted the historic match.

Since then, AI has quickly invaded both industrial sites and our everyday lives. Having already beaten humans in performance and precision in professional fields, the question is how humans can defend their jobs against the machines. As the threat to jobs has become real, most experts believe “fractionalization and convergence” in the labor market will likely accelerate due to a surge in technological refugees.

In the United States, working without limits in time and space is being referred to as the opposite of regular or permanent jobs. In Japan, there are several types of “freeters,” or people lacking full-time employment. One type is those opting for odd jobs so as not to become “wage slaves.” They voluntarily juggle a driving gig at Uber in the daytime and a delivery job at night. It becomes blurry whether one is a wage earner or an employer. In Korea, some convenience store owners already take home a smaller income than their part-time employees due to drastic hikes in the minimum wage.

Neoclassical economics determined wages based on the balance between the marginal value of work and the marginal value of leisure. That thought has changed greatly. German sociologist Ulrich Beck had likened life to a cup of cappuccino with the “sweet cream” of leisure on top of the sour espresso of work. These days, one would desire a latte with the half-half mix of espresso and milk. Forcing the 52-hour workweek does not ensure a work-life-balance. A journalist cannot strictly divide their work by hours.

The boundaries of work and study have also become blurry. Society and the workplace are now responsible for schooling. Today, various scholars and experts from journalism, education, social science and software fields hold a seminar at the Press Center in downtown Seoul on the theme of the future of labor and work in the age of automation.

The forum will discuss what jobs are sustainable and insecure in the future, as well as the new types of jobs in the age of AI. Various civilian experiments on job sharing and community projects will be introduced.

One presenter will ask politicians to spend sufficient money to nurture talent for the fourth industrial revolution and concentrate on removing regulations and norms that get in the way of innovation.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 24, Page31