U.S. Tech Firms to Help Train 20 Million Southeast Asian Workers to Avoid the A.I. Apocalypse

November 19, 2018, 1:26 PM UTC

Major U.S. tech companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Cisco joined a World Economic Forum (WEF) plan to train 20 million Southeast Asian workers in digital skills by 2020, according to the public-private cooperation organization. The plans are part of the WEF’s Digital ASEAN initiative.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is unfolding at accelerating speed,” said Justin Wood, a member of the WEF’s executive committee. Workers need new skills and the working-age population in the region grows by 11,000 people every day and will continue for the next 15 years, he said.

A shift to automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence will have a big impact on jobs—particularly in manufacturing—experts agree. How many human jobs will fall to silicon-powered replacements depends on whom you ask. For example, consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that half of all work activities could be automated and in 60% of jobs, almost a third of the work done falls into the automated category.

As the WEF noted separately, rapid full automation would cause an upheaval in values and concepts of human labor, potentially causing significant social upheaval. Southeast Asia is important to the global economy given the amount of contract manufacturing it does for many industries, particularly in high tech. The region’s stability is important to many companies and economies.

The initiative includes a pledge by companies to help develop digital skills among Southeast Asian workers, especially those in small- and medium-sized enterprises. Also included are $2 million in scholarships for technology students, the hiring of an additional 200,000 digital workers, and engagement of 20,000 citizens through “Digital Inspiration Days,” during which companies will invite people to visit their offices and learn more about the future of work.