Frightening new world
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - September 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Read today’s headlines and listen to cable news. It will tell you that the world and the Philippine public are focused on today’s problems – corruption, economy, traffic, violence, justice. A few are trying to address the looming crisis that will be caused by climate change. Indonesia has announced it will move its capital to a new location in East Borneo because  rising water levels will soon affect coastal cities like its present capital – Jakarta.

There is another global revolution that is already beginning. This will impact the lives of every human being in the world. In the Philippines, aside from a few seminars and academic discussions, the topic of a technological revolution and its effects on the lives of everyone is hardly discussed.

This will be the Fourth Technological Revolution in the history of humankind. Each time there was such a revolution, there were wars and millions would lose their jobs. There would be a period of social chaos and political upheavals. In the late 19th century to the early 20th century the world went through an Industrial Revolution. Millions of agrarian workers lost their livelihood. Factories replaced the craftsmen and capitalism was born. Its abuses led to the flourishing of Communism and National Socialism and Fascism. There were major attempts to find a humane solution to the excesses of a capitalist, industrial economy. This was also the period when Catholic Social Teachings, labor unions and labor laws like the minimum wage were born. However, it took decades before the world adjusted to the consequences of  the Industrial Revolution.

At the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, the world saw the emergence of a few giant businesses who were the first to exploit this new Revolution. These companies exercised monopolistic powers over certain industries like Standard Oil in petroleum, Ford Motors in automotive, US Steel, and General Electric. This gave birth to the first batch of the mega rich like John Rockefeller in oil, Henry Ford in auto, Rothschild in banking and Andrew Carnegie in steel. Finally these monopolies gave birth to antitrust legislation which broke them up into several companies.

The excesses of the rich amidst the poverty and joblessness of the poor led to violent strikes in the US and Great Britain, revolutions in Russia and China, two world wars and the Great Depression.

As we look to the coming of the Fourth Technological or Industrial Revolution, we can already see the emergence of many similarities – a few super rich, worsening income inequality, global recessions and increasing tensions between countries.

There are new companies that have emerged to be dominant on a global scale – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Huawei. There are signs that the danger of these monopolies is being recognized.  Just recently, the 50 state governments in the US are filing cases that are meant to break up the Google monopoly. There are also steps being taken to place more restrictions on Facebook. These actions are primarily being done in the US and the European Union. China has yet to take any anti-monopolistic action for Chinese companies.

Most of the writings about the coming age of Artificial Intelligence are promising a better world. The advances in science, technology and robotics are predicted to have a world close to utopia. However, Yuval Harari, who has studied and written extensively about this “new world” has this warning: “For the last few decades, people all over the world were told that humankind is on the path to equality and that globalization and new technologies will help us get there sooner. In reality, the 21st century might create the most unequal societies in history. Though globalization and the internet bridge the gap between countries, they threaten to enlarge the rift between classes. And just as humankind seems about to achieve global unification, the specie itself might divide into different biological castes.”

Globalization has made people in one country utterly dependent on markets in other countries. Automation might disrupt this global trade network with disastrous consequences for the weakest link in the supply chain. For example, millions of Bangladeshis make a living by producing shirts and selling them to the US. Vietnam has become a manufacturing center by producing goods at lower costs than developed countries. Millions in India and the Philippines earn their keep in call centers dealing with the complaints of American customers.

Harari warns: “Yet with the rise of AI, robots and 3-D printers, cheap unskilled labor will become far less important. Instead of manufacturing a shirt in Dhaka and shipping it all the way to the United States, you could buy a shirt online from Amazon and print it in New York. The Zara and Prada stores on Fifth Avenue, New York City could be replaced by 3-D printing centers in Brooklyn and some people might even have a printer at home. ...instead of calling customer service in India...you could talk with an AI representative in the Google cloud.”

The result will be millions of unemployed factory workers and call center operators in Asia who do not have the education necessary to switch to fashion designing or writing computer codes.

The Philippines can prepare its children for this “new world”or tell them: “When you grow up you will not have a job.”

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Sept. 14(1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone session) at Fully Booked BGC. To mark  our 6th year, first-time attendees will be free of change. For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

FOURTH TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION
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