The Future of Work in India: Adapting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Bajpai, Nirupam; Biberman, John

As India has continued its transition into the digital economy, a new technological revolution is starting which, in the long term, will revolutionize the future of work and the nature of the economy. In the modern digital economy, machines are capable of automating simple and predictable tasks, but humans fill in to bring the nuance, complexity and creativity our technology cannot yet provide. Yet new advances in computing power, the growing ubiquity of internet-connected devices, and algorithms which mimic the cognitive processes of human thought are building a world in which complex and unpredictable processes can be automated through the sheer weight of predictive data. In the process, work tasks currently seen as reserved for humans can increasingly be ceded to machines, threatening to upend paradigms of employment in place throughout human history.

India would appear vulnerable to these tectonic changes, as a large share of its economy is already vulnerable to automation through technologies already widely available. However, in the next few decades, India is unlikely to experience significant job loss from automation. Labor costs are low enough that implementing the expensive infrastructure and systems required to facilitate automation does not make economic sense, especially in the informal sector where the vast majority of individuals work. These technologies may, however, eliminate jobs that have served as traditional ladders for social mobility in a time of inequality. They will also elevate the digital platform economy into a position of dominance, requiring labor reforms to address the unforeseen challenges that result.

Moving forward, India should develop a framework for formal protections in the emerging digital gig economy, which straddles the formal and informal sectors. Education initiatives promoting reskilling and upskilling should be expanded, as lifelong learning becomes more and more important for adapting to changing realities in the labor market. Finally, the government should consider policies to redistribute gains from technology and incentivize advances in the fields that reflect India’s development priorities.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Center for Sustainable Development
Center for Sustainable Development, Earth Institute, Columbia University
ICT India Working Papers, 11
Published Here
June 19, 2019