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Jaws of snake vs. jaws of crocodile.

Korea has joined the ranks of the world's top-tier economic and technology powerhouses in less than six decades after post-war devastation.

Things did not look bad until the end of the last century when the country had enough room for growth in every industrial sector. No one can doubt that rapid economic growth made a huge contribution to improving employment, household income and the living standards of people here.

The rise of technologies and a machine-driven lifestyle, which began crystalizing from the early 2000s, has added to the exponential growth in labor productivity.

But the growth-oriented development is coming at the cost of the workforce much faster than before, causing the "decoupling" between labor productivity and employment here and abroad.

U.S. economist Jared Bernstein, who introduced the concept, compares the widening gap between the two indexes to the "jaws of the snake," saying the country is undergoing a great decoupling between jobs and productivity. The upper jaw of the snake represents improving productivity, while the lower jaw shows stagnant and declining employment.

But the gap in Korea is much wider than that of the U.S. and technological unemployment will continue to put a growing number of local workers at risk, according to a Korean human-factors expert.

"The U.S. is undergoing great decoupling, but Korea remains in a state of greatest decoupling, due to the latter's decades-long obsession on productivity-focused growth," Cha Doo-won, the author of "Job Killer," said in his book. He is working as a policy planning researcher at the Korea Institute of S and T Evaluation and Planning.

"The shape of the graph showing the gap between the two figures in Korea looks like the jaws of the crocodile, much wider than the snake's jaws of the U.S.," he said. "What is worse is that it will open its jaws wider and wider at a more rapid pace down the road than those from any other countries."

The trend will intensify further with technological development in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), killing jobs of not just white-collar workers, but expert-level professionals, he said.

As robots and machines have for decades replaced blue-collar workers, the arrival of the AI era is also slowly nibbling away jobs from office workers and other high-paying, specialized areas that were once considered stable, he added.

He also noted that creativity is not the exclusive possession only human beings are born with, citing the examples of robot artists.

"Kulitta, developed by Yale University researcher Donya Quick, can compose not just classical and jazz but also new types of music by taking advantage of its self-learning capability," he said. "A group of music experts were asked to evaluate its output in seven categories, and the result showed Kulitta's music was as sophisticated as that of the best human musicians."

"Jobs, which require creativity and sensitivity, were thought to be free from potential threats from robots. But the belief will not be considered true any longer if all the information across the globe can be transformed into datasets and they are put into robots and AI platforms."

Embrace technology

Experts are poles apart over the future of AI and emerging technologies. Some argue new technologies may pose growing threats to people, while others remain optimistic over the infinite growth potential that technology can bring to their lives.

Cha stressed that people should remain more agile in embracing new technology, rather than trying to deny the arrival of the new era or focus more on coming up with countermeasures to deal with such concerns as potential job loss.

"Technological unemployment has always existed throughout the history of humankind," he said. "As always, those who develop new technology can become a ruler. Those who make effective use of it become winners. But those who do not own or even utilize technology will end up being losers."

He called for people to swallow their pride, and instead develop skills to take full advantage of robots. But people are having less and less time to prepare for the exponential development pace of technology.

"It depends on the people at a time when robots and AI are rapidly being united to replace our role," he said.

He picked harmony and transformation as two key capabilities for people to survive in the toughening competition against robots, and declining jobs.

"With the focus on developing one's own expertise, each of us should also remain more flexible enough to harmonize with academia, businesses and last but not least, people."
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Nov 20, 2017
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