Where does data revolution lead us ?

We as a generation do not belong to ‘one job for life’ but we might also have to reconsider ‘one profession for life’. This interesting yet hard hitting revelation dawned upon me when I started working. It’s surprising how relevant we will feel with respect to our ideals and identities in college but how quickly that bubble bursts when one starts working. In a span of a year I came across things that 5 years of architecture could not teach me. Architecture taught to me how to design wonderfully but in isolation of the things that were actually shaping the industry. Prior to working ,I had no idea how AI could play role in designing cities or how much redundancy it could create in the traditional models of design. I happened to read ‘21 lessons for the 21st century ‘ by Yuval Noah Harari this week. How much I wished that I had read it sooner ! Ever since I started working there had been a nagging confusion in my mind and this book brought certain clarity to my thought process . There are some parts in the book that resonated more with me than the other, hence this week I would like to delve into two questions:

What kind of jobs would be shaping tomorrow’s economy ?

What does this transformation look like at the expense of our existing governance models?

Tomorrow’s Jobs:

I had written a post last month that elaborated on us entering the fourth industrial revolution, where we would be seeing an integration of AI, IoT and machine learning. This will also be transforming societies as well as economies in ways that we still cannot comprehend. To build further along those lines, what intrigued me is that , as Yuval mentions in his book, is that AI revolution is not only about super fast computers ,It is also about breakthroughs in life sciences and social sciences as well. As the past few decades saw the rise of behavioural economics along with an extensive research in neuroscience, it shows how humans or consumers can be nudged into taking decisions that they think to be their own. There is a pattern to our ‘intuition’ which means that if this pattern which can be accounted in terms of data when fed to AI , then it can in-fact be relatively more intuitive. As AI can do something that we as humans are not trained to do , that is to think of our decisions in terms of probabilities and what could be the best possible outcome of the given situation. This intuition that we creative professionals hold so dear to our heart can be propounded by AI. But then most of believe that AI could never have emotions involved in making decisions or in rendering our services and our ability to account for emotions is what sets us apart from machines. This thought is countered by Yuval , as he mentions in his book is that our feelings are not the opposite of rationality the way we like to believe, but are in fact biochemical algorithms or as he puts it :

Our feelings embody evolutionary Rationality.

21 lessons for the 21st Century

Hence, the coming years will not see just the rise in info-tech but the confluence of info-tech and bio-tech which could create redundancy on scales that hasn’t been witnessed before. As architects we are often taught to explore our own styles of form making, to understand our context, client needs, materials etc and through this we develop our intuition as to what could make a good design. This approach is questioned when big data comes into play. One of the first learnings I had when I started working, is architects are not the only ones pioneering city design development and how data analytics played an even bigger role in design. The Smart Cities Mission which was launched in India in 2014, aims at making cities smarter through IoT. It aims at improving lives through integration of technology with the built, something that was missing in the way I was taught about architecture. There’s a study that I came across recently that talks about integrating AI with architecture to make efficient designs. It taps into the idea of feeding in data of the design approaches we as architects develop and how when a certain threshold of iterations is reached, AI could build its own intuition. It could give clients a vast number of options to choose from which in today’s day and time is laborious and time consuming. Here the key lies in setting the right parameters while feeding in data with respect to context, circulation, materials, footprint etc. , basically the fundamental elements that comprise architecture. All this reiterates that AI could develop its own intuition, where us would will have to leverage much more than the intuitive skills that at present define our ideas of creativity. This is not only with respect to architecture but every field that exists today.

So What will the jobs of tomorrow look like ? We often think in terms of competing with AI to survive but as Yuval mentions in his book ,maybe it’s not about competing with AI, but about leveraging the AI. It’s about being familiar with it so as to make it better. This though will lead to niche skill generation which at the same time will leave a lot of average or low skilled people useless, an opposite of what we saw during the last industrial revolution.The last industrial revolution saw the rise of working class but in the times of tomorrow we could see the rise of people who have the best skills to offer , which as we see is the people with most resources at their disposal. This has already begun shaping as unemployment has been increasing not just in our country which according to the National Sample Survey office report was at a 45 year low, but also globally employment rate has been contracted. This inevitable change will require government intervention as the time required to garner new sets of skills and at the mean time to make sure one doesn’t run out of basic needs is important. Scandinavia has been executing something along these lines where the philosophy holds, protect the workers not the jobs.

Governance of tomorrow:

This rise in big data, automation and the merger of bio-tech and info-tech could either give rise to communism( where there could be equal distribution of ‘basic amenities’) or digital dictatorships, which the COVID-19 had already initiated to a slight extent in form of digitally monitoring the movement of its citizens. The former idea stems out of the need to subsidize resources because if a majority of the population is rendered irrelevant, the government will have to step in to help out its citizens. This brings in the idea of Universal Basic income which has been talked about for a while but the scale and the complexities of the economies make it difficult to execute. It becomes difficult to define what those basic needs are as 15 years ago we did not see internet as a necessity but today one can’t function without it. The transformation that AI will bring is dynamic and no one can account for the basic necessities it might generate. At the same time the impact of these changes will be faced differently by different economies as developing economies thrive because of their ability to supply cheap unskilled labour but with automation this need might go down. What would the governments do in such cases. to sustain their countries? Where would it generate capital from if most of its population as in the case of Bangladesh which is an economy that relies on these developed economies to outsource their labour work to them. It would require the governments to support the need to generate skilled persons in order to thrive. The creation of jobs this time around will be different from the previous industrial revolution.

The problem with this provision of basic amenities and distribution of resources equally , looks on the facade a bit of what communism offers, but this also creates the lack of economic assets that is held by the majority of the population. This for the majority would also mean that it would be difficult for them to command anything more that the basics and would further widen the gap between the rich and the poor. What’s worse than not acquiring enough resources is the threat of irrelevancy that the coming age brings, as in order to get better we also require certain economic assets and access to resources that are not usually always accounted under what’s termed as basic.

The idea of digital dictatorships which the book mentions is interesting and at the same time really scary as it feeds on the lack of human capacity to make informed decisions all the time. It stems from the idea of our reliance on the concept of ‘free will’ and how this free will can be manipulated through behavioural science. The behavioural science methods when combined with AI could lead to the destruction of liberal democracies. As mentioned above the development in bio-tech could lead to a better understanding of human mind which would increase reliance on algorithms for better decision making. This could reduce our dependence on ourselves to make decisions for ourselves and we will happen to trust big data algorithms more. Our reliance on google for any kind of information is an example of that. Further our reliance on the various kind of apps that are rolled out in the market today reflects our increasing dependence on these external resources. This increasing reliance on big data will proportionally lead to an increase in power of the proprietors which could be governments in this case. This ownership of data questions the the concept of liberty which lies at the foundation of democracy. Currently our policies are shaped by economists, bankers and business tycoons who have the power to sway the economies, tomorrow they might be shaped by data that is collected by various public and private entities . An interesting outcome of this entire process is loss of community discrimination and the rise of individual discrimination, which is what would make a revolt of this process difficult as the sense of community is absent. Each one will have to fend for themselves and the need to be self-reliant is more important than ever,

Coming back to what I started with, that is what will it be like to work in the coming decades, it could be one of the most mentally stimulating times that we have encountered so far. Automation with it could reduce our indulgence in laborious tasks and would drive us to push our creative thinking. It would generate a need to have a cross-disciplinary approach to our models of thinking where we cannot function in isolation anymore. As architects it would be relevant to know more about how these data algorithms work in order to create efficient cities. As doctors , the use of technology would help in reducing error with respect to diagnosis but even better it could tell us that we are sick even before the doctors can figure it out themselves( through sensory receptors). As governments it would be possible to design efficient policies when AI could process huge chunks of data and be more effective in taking in individual perspectives. Or this could all sway the other way and we could be entering a time where our relevance reduces to nothing more than just chips of data.

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