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'Black Swans' and future imperfect!
'Black Swans' is an expression which has pervaded professional literature since 2007.

Reports of major consulting companies and futurologists often use the term.

A 2nd century Latin expression in vogue those days, translates to mean: ‘a rare bird, very much like a black swan’. During the Medieval Ages it was believed that swans were only white! It was in the 17th century that Dutch explorers ran into black swans in Western Australia. 

The recent currency of the expression ‘Black Swan’ is thanks to Wall Street broker, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2007 book, ‘The Black Swan’. He studied the great crashes of the stock market, and came to the conclusion that no one could have anticipated the Great Depressions of 1990 and 2008. (Except, of course, the prescient Ravi Batra and Raghuram Rajan, respectively.)   

According to him, Black Swan is a metaphor for all major unplanned for scientific discoveries, historic and social trends, etc. No amount of futuristic models could have foreseen them, for they are ‘undirected and unpredictable’. Rise and wide ranging impact of Internet, PCs, smartphones and the dissolution of the superpower, the Soviet Union - are some examples explained in detail. 

Neither the CIA, nor any of their intelligence agencies or futurists could have foreseen the September 11, 2001 attack, which is now being called a ‘black swan event’. Why? 

Who would have imagined that a plot to deliver a double whammy to the powerful United States in just one fell blow would have been hatched in Hamburg, Germany! The Al Qaeda trained its hijackers on American soil at American flying schools. And used scheduled American passenger flights to crash into three most powerful icons of American might: World Trade Centre (Economy), Pentagon (Defence) and White House (Government). The White House target was forced by the passengers to crash elsewhere. Nevertheless, thousands of innocent lives were lost and America and the rest of the world was never the same again! Shockingly satanic though, no amount of logical thinking and co-ordination of intelligence agencies could have imagined the out-of-box meticulous masterminding of the heinous act! 

‘Black Swans’ by their nature are ‘disruptive’. And future ‘disruptions’ is the name of the game, in which planners, sociologists, medical experts, technologists etc. are engaged in. 

Some recent disruptions which are already a part of our lives are:- 

Expedia is the largest ‘owner’ of hotel rooms, without having a single hotel of its own. In all major hotels of the world, it has leased out rooms at heavy discounts and offers it online, for customers to book from the comfort of their homes. Without even making a single call! 

Airbnb does the same by offering paying guest accommodations, for all pockets. This has given a tremendous boost to families who have some rooms to let out. On the other hand, hotel owners in certain resort towns are up in arms. As Airbnb has cut substantially into their business! And the neighbours complain of the constant moving in and moving out of paying guests, almost on a daily basis! 

Uber, Ola and others also work on the principle of ‘aggregating’ the existing cabs and cars. Passengers have the advantage of seeing on their mobiles, the location of the nearest cab. Usually, it’s always ‘round the corner. 

Aggregators like ‘Care24’ have sprung up all over India, who provide home-care of the sick, by providing nurses, physiotherapists and other para-medical staff, at a very short notice. 

All the above examples cited above have largely been of benign nature, and make life of the customer easy. 

Common to all the above businesses is  the fact that they would not have been possible without internet and Wi-Fi. Even with the establishment of internet, no one could have imagined the sudden burst of aggregators on the scene. Also executives of these companies need not go to their offices. They can work out from home or while travelling – as long as they have their laptops and mobiles handy! 

The future of Work: 

What should concern us in India, is what sort of future awaits the unemployed. We are not able to fully tap our demographic dividend. The manner in which work related methodologies are moving, they say that the ‘End of Work’ is dawning. 

Futurologist Jeremy Rifkin in his 1996 book, ‘The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labour Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era’, had anticipated the same problem. 

As recently as in 2016, sceptics had doubted predictions about massive disruptions of labour force by Artificial Intelligence and robots. Now, particularly in the United States the mainstream press, business literature and consultants are in overdrive analysing the future of work.  ‘Predictions that seemed distant two years ago are entering the real world — from the live-testing of driverless  ride sharing  in metro cities to the opening of the world’s first fully automated retail outlets’ 

Amazon has revolutionised retail shopping worldwide, in which we order on line from home and our wares are home delivered. Now as a departure, Amazon has also opened a fully automated neighbourhood grocery store, by the name of The Amazon Go, in Seattle. When the shopper walks in, there will be no sales persons or cash counters. Sensors record the products the customers are taking out and directly debit the costs to their account. The company is calling this a "Just Walk Out" shopping experience! 

In such set ups, low skill jobs are eliminated. But far fewer staff with other skill sets are required to keep the automated systems going.

Future of jobs in India, 2020: 

An Ernst & Young report states that: 

·9% would be in new jobs that do not exist today!

·37% would be deployed in jobs that have radically changed skill sets.

·54% will fall under unchanged skills category.

·Migration of workers to overseas markets will decline by 25-30% 

‘While globalization is a convenient scapegoat, technology is a bigger source of job disruption and inequality. This trend will only accelerate: automation and the future of work could lead to much greater job displacement and income inequality ahead’. 

It is hoped that our policy makers, industry, economists and vocational educationists will take up one of the biggest challenges our country is facing today. When 46% of the jobs for 2020, will require entirely new skill sets.

There is unanimity among experts that these technological trends will widen the gap between the rich and the poor, leading to social unrest and protectionism as evident from the election results country by country!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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