Globotics – how will the next stage in the evolution of globalisation impact the white collar middle class?
By James Boggan, Consultant
A term coined by Professor Richard Burton, globotics, is the slightly awkward sounding amalgamation of globalisation and robotics[i]. Professor Burton predicts that developed countries’ appetite for outsourcing work to developing countries will shift to include tasks previously undertaken by local, highly-skilled white-collar workers. This shift will be made possible by advancements in technology, which will allow easy communication between people speaking different languages. What would be the benefit of this? Quite simply, cost savings. Organisations in developed countries can pay highly-skilled telemigrants – people who are based in one country but work in another, a fraction of what they would pay people based in developed countries to do the same task.
Varian’s Law dictates that emerging concepts can become a reality very quickly when several enabling technologies work together[ii]. Applied to this context, this means that, to be fully realised, globotics will rely on the interaction of technologies, notably; ultra-fast connectivity, holographics, robotics, AI and machine learning – specifically translation technology. Some of these technologies are still in their nascent phase and some are just not widely commercially available – particularly in developing countries. Therefore, globotics will likely be a gradual process, its direction dictated by where the application of breakthrough technologies can lead to the greatest cost savings. It is also important to note that while the focus of globotics is on the white-collar middle class, it does not mean that people in lower-skilled jobs will not continue to be impacted.
What are the barriers?
In certain cases, the technology is already available for globotics to infiltrate industries and jobs – it is human nature and socialisation that are proving the barrier, particularly in industries where emotions play a bigger role. Take the role of a surgeon for example. As long ago as 2001, the first transatlantic patient was operated on in Paris by surgeons in New York[iii]. However, in the 19 years since then, despite the technology being available, remote operations still only account for a tiny fraction of overall operations. It is likely that this is because people are still not comfortable having surgery performed by a someone they have never met, operating from a completely different country. The same applies to driverless planes, despite the technology being available, the thought of being in an airborne plane while the pilot is on the ground is terrifying for many people[iv]. Research conducted by UBS in 2017 found only 17% of people surveyed would board a driverless plane. Interestingly though, that figure rose to 27% for those surveyed aged 18 – 24, suggesting socialisation is increasing for the use of AI and robotics among the younger population.[v]
As hypothetical examples, these examples of the surgeon and the pilot ignore some legal, regulatory and logistical issues that will arise with globotics. If the proliferation of telemigrancy does occur at the speed predicted by Professor Burton, developed countries’ governments may have to regulate and impose limits in order to protect their own economies. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out from both the economic and sociological perspective.
Future-proofing your career
Whether through automation, or outsourcing to telemigrants, tasks within low- to highly-skilled jobs may be irrevocably changed. It is impossible to say in what industries this will occur first, but it will likely be a gradual process and dictated by the socialisation of artificial intelligence and the rate of technological advancements. Although the change will be gradual, we can safely predict that the human-centric, face-to-face, relationship-focussed tasks will be the last to be impacted by globotics. The power of the reassuring smile of a surgeon and calming tone of a pilot, should not be underestimated.
If you are looking to future-proof your career, you may want to consider your job in terms of its individual tasks. Of these individual tasks, consider what ones require your specific human-centric skills and tacit knowledge. These are the tasks that are likely to be the most future-proofed, and so you should focus on developing your ability and performance in these tasks.
If you would like to discuss this in more depth, please comment below or reach out to me over email.
[ii] Varian, H., Farrell, J., & Shapiro, C. The Economics of Information Technology: An Introduction