Dec 062016




#AmazonGo – Amazon’s latest offerings. A shop without check in and check out, where your amazon wallet and enhanced AI, allows you to pick up what you want, and walk out of the door. The system, takes care of everything from entry to the shop, to counting picks, to calculating totals, and deducting it from the amazon wallet. The first store has already been in operation for a year. They are planning to roll it out.

And while the consumer in me rejoices at the thought of no queues (no, i really loathe queues, but that is another story) I can’t but help think, how many jobs will be lost to this. It is only a matter of time before others join in to create a more efficient shopping network, that yields higher profits, and better return to the shareholder. But, the question remains what about the jobs.

With more and more automation, and this is impacting services too. You hear about teams of 150+ systems engineers, being reduced to a dozen. AI is taking over many of the jobs, that don’t require complex decision making. And, give it time, it would do that too.

So what do you do with so many people sitting at home. Or loitering about. Or waiting in queues to find jobs. Where there are no jobs to be had. What do you do?

You could be a benevolent (and prosperous ) system, and pay everyone (i mean every single person) a minimum living wage, so that people not only don’t starve to death, but have something more. But, the planet has 7 billion people. And, you are talking about a fair amount of money for a minimum living wage. I am not sure that countries or economies possess that kind of money to pay people to sit on the bench, unless robotic efficiency is so great, and corporate taxation so fair, and all off shore tax loopholes are abolished and companies pay tax – to be able to deliver this.

There are no consistent estimates for how many people work in the world, there are estimates of as high as 70% of the population is occupied with some work or the other, mostly informal, others talk about a “global labour force of  3.2 billion”  in 2030; and, there is an estimate of 1.3 billion people in full time employment by Gallup. This is a 2013 figure. And, I seriously don’t see the figure going up drastically. Gains in one part of the world, would be off set by losses in another. About One fifth (19% if you want accuracy) of the population is in formal employment. And, the rest is in informal employment. And, more of the 1.3 billion jobs will be lost.

I quite like robots. They are good. efficient. They don’t ask for holidays. You don’t have to counsel them. They don’t go on strike. They don’t need to be paid. Or fed. Or clothed. Or be listened to. I am sure 50-60 years from now, they will be writing news and scripts, and making films – but, I will be long gone by then (hopefully) 😀 I can completely see why a large assembly line will replace 800 workers with an army of robots – it is efficient.

But, is efficiency everything ? Should corporate profits be at the expense of social stability. Think of India, 70% of the population under 35. There are large plants that i have visited, that have less than a dozen full time staff. It is all automated. And, they get in contract workers (no benefits) when demand goes up. The rest of the time it is only machines. What happens to the jobs? What happens to the adjoining areas of the factory? Very often land and other tax breaks are offered to companies to set up in the hope it will bring in jobs. Highly skilled jobs.

There are 7 billion people on earth, 7 million mouths to be fed. And, with ever aspect of the market place becoming more and more automated, there are fewere and fewer jobs. . And, while technology is great and good, and i love technology – this aspect of it is also very real.  Those jobs gone, will never come back. The ATM is not going to be replaced by a human being (even though a human being doesn’t need to be calibrated to give out Rs 2000 notes),  The new jobs that are being promised, are highly skilled jobs. Or require very high levels of decision making. And, you cannot have 2 billion of those.

Should governments, especially in countries with huge populations like India and China, give companies tax breaks not to automate. But, that will make the industries inefficient. How do you trade off technological strides with social stability ? Can states even attempt to do this?

What will states do with all the unemployed ? And, they are all worried about this. Not just because of Brexit and Trumpet, but also this –   one of the things that you have when there are large numbers of young people unemployed, is either a war or a revolution . Just look at the middle east, would radical Islam have taken a foot hold if the young were bone dead tired from working all day ?

Do governments even have a plan for future jobs (i am hoping they are discussing with industry and figuring what these jobs are)  ? for training people from now on. I don’t know the answers to this. I wish I did. But, i would be very curious to know whether you think your job (not personally but the function that you perform) will be taken over (or not) by the machines. Why is all this important? because if a world with 1/5 people in full time employment is scary – because there are raging fires where ever there are no jobs (crime, riots, rebellion, civil war) – a world with even fewer jobs in even scarier.



(image from here )

Jun 272013

My column in today’s DNA
Nature’s fury. Human blunder. Himalayan tsunami. These are just some of the hyperbolic terms used to describe the cloudburst, flash floods and the subsequent devastation that has wracked Uttarakhand over the last week or so. But, this is neither the first disaster to hit India in the last few decades, nor will it be the last.
Asia, in general, and South Asia in particular, is often called the “supermarket of disasters” because almost everything that can go wrong with nature goes wrong here — even without the presence of human beings. Earthquakes, landslides, cloud bursts, famine and volcanoes are all par for the course. Add dense population, the need to meet the aspirations of this population, negotiable integrity, a ‘who-has-seen-tomorrow’ nonchalance, and government ineptitude and you have a disaster just waiting to happen.

The Boxing Day Tsunami, also called the Indian Ocean Tsunami that hit Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and parts of India saw almost 2.25 lakh deaths across the region, countless injured and billions of dollars of loss in terms of property and infrastructure. In terms of loss of life, it has been the single biggest disaster of this century. Cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster in Burma, led to almost 140,000 lives being lost. The more recent tsunami that hit Japan saw loss of not just life and property, but an additional risk caused by a nuclear reactor being impacted by nature’s fury. In recent years, Mount Merapi in Indonesia blew its top causing death and destruction with flaming lava. And these are barely the tip of the disaster iceberg.
In May, the United Nations released a report that had estimated the cost incurred due to disasters to around US $2.5 trillion, at least 50 per cent higher than earlier estimates. Scientists expect earth to be hit by more hazards in the years to come — some caused by earth itself changing, others by changes brought about by human beings and our desire to harness nature. When a natural hazard becomes a disaster, we count the loss in terms of life, limb, property and infrastructure. But, there is a cost that is not counted — that is the cost borne by populations and that cost is development. The loss of buildings is quantifiable — for example, a school is washed away, and it will cost RsX to rebuild. How do you quantify the loss in education to all the children who live in that area? Similarly, the loss of a factory is quantifiable as is the loss in livelihood. But how do you measure the loss in self-respect and self-esteem — a wage earner who suddenly becomes dependent on handouts.
Given the fact that we live in a world that is dangerous — even before humans start wars or riots — there are two ways of dealing with natural hazards and their aftermath. The first is the current mode, which is wait for a disaster to happen and then rush in with resources and aid. In the past 60 years this has been the main method of dealing with disasters — aid agencies and governments pour millions into rescue and rehabilitation. However, this method is reactive, and while rehabilitation occurs, there is no way that lives and livelihood and lost development can be recovered. Also, given that natural disasters are striking more frequently, there is an onset of “donor fatigue” — a slowdown of public response posts a disaster that impacts the poorest of the poor the most. From the donors point of view: How many times do you help people in the same region rebuild, especially given that they fall prey to the same mistakes?
The second is a mode that says that the world is a dangerous place; let’s learn to mitigate these dangers through policy-making, planning, publicising and participation. The aim of this mode is to make communities resilient so that they can overcome the effects of the disaster by themselves, with minimal impact on life, livelihood and quality of living. The aim here is to make Disaster Risk Reduction a part of everyday policy — from building of roads, to the construction of homes; from encouraging kitchen gardens to putting in place community shelters. The idea is spend a little more now, and tomorrow when disaster strikes you don’t have to spend billions. The idea is, when a natural hazard occurs, it does not become a disaster, and loss to life and property is minimal.
No government on earth can prevent a cloud burst, nor can they prevent flash floods or tsunamis or their impact on the world at large. What governments can do, however, is to mitigate the effects of the disaster through careful planning of all aspects of development in a region, by keeping in mind the fact that it is prone to a certain type of natural hazard. This does not mean one puts development on the back burner. It is, however, possible to undertake sensible development — where you factor in the environmental hazards. To give an example, Japan lies in one of the most earthquake prone regions of the world. The great earthquake of 1923 killed almost 150,000 people. Since then there have been a number of earthquakes, yet the casualty figures are minimal. That is because the Japanese have internalised that they live in a dangerous part of the world, and disaster-risk reduction is part of their national ethos. Every construction is earthquake proof. And, Japan has some of the tallest buildings of any nation.
India lurches from disaster to disaster and relief to relief. And, this really is going to do no one any good unless long-term disaster preparedness becomes part of the national ethos. Not just the government, but every single citizen. It is in the way development is planned, buildings are constructed, people are trained, and citizens are prepared. Else, all we can do is mourn our dead, count our losses and pray for the survivors.

Jun 232013

I have known and worked with the people at SEEDS India for almost 6 years. i have worked with them in documenting the post Tsunami response and was awed by their focus on making communities impacted by disasters self sufficient. They work exclusively in the area of disaster mitigation and rehabilitation. do read their appeal and see if you can help.


Heavy and non-stop rainfall has caused irreversible damage in the state of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The worst flood affected districts are Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Pithorgarh in Uttarakhand and Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. Roads and essential infrastructure (bridges and health centres) have suffered extensive damage. There is an urgent need for humanitarian assistance to the local communities.

More than 70,000 people are still missing. Local families have lost everything they owned (houses, livestock, assets) .Our team and partner organizations are assessing the situations and supporting basic needs on the ground. The ground realities are expected to get worse in the coming days with lack of clean water, medical aid, shelter and food shortages.

SEEDS is responding to the shelter needs of affected people in Chamoli and the first batch of tents is being dispatched. It plans to restore houses for at least 200 families.
You can also contribute by Cheque /Draft drawn in favour of “SEEDS”
SEEDS, 15/A Institutional Area, R.K Puram,
Sector IV, New Delhi-110022
Tel: +91-11-26174272

For further information, please contact:
Mr. Yezdani Rahman
Co-coordinator-Humanitarian Assistance
Phone: +91-9650747952

– See more at:


About Seeds India

SEEDS, founded in 1994, is a humanitarian organisation that has been active in all major relief and rehabilitation initiatives since the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake. Over the years, our team has reached out to families affected by earthquakes, floods and cyclones; restored schools and hospitals. SEEDS continue to advocate for and work with communities across Asia to build a safer and sustainable world.

SEEDS is the first Indian Agency to be certified by the “Humanitarian Accountability Partnership” – the global commitment to meeting the highest standards of accountability and quality management in humanitarian response. It is a signatory to the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Jan 282013

“It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBC and the scheduled castes and no increasingly, scheduled tribes and as long as this is the case the Indian Republic will survive”
– Ashish Nandy

I have been told i am wrong in railing against this statement (ranting would be more appropriate) – but i truly find it abhorrent. To call it irresponsible would be wrong, it would imply that the statement was correct, but someone should have held their silence for ‘political correctness’. At a very basic level it is sans data. Even if you looked at the data that comes out of the GoI, where are the positions of power. And, if there are no positions of power – what corruption are you talking about – chai pani  ?


Secy Addl. Secy Joint Secy Director
Total No. of officers 149 108 477 590
No. of SCs 2 31 17
% age of SCs 1.85 6.49 2.88
No. of STs 4 2 15 7
% age of STs 2.68 1.85 3.14 1.18

( The number of officers presently working as Secretary, Additional  Secretary, Joint Secretary and Director level posts, in the Government of India and the number of SC and ST officers on these posts and their percentage, as  on 14.3.2011, as per the information available. As regards the number of OBC officers, it is stated that data regarding OBC status of the officers was not being obtained at the time of appointment of officers prior to 1994 and is therefore not available.)

And, if you are talking about elected representatives being corrupt – what are they taking money for and from whom and to what end? corruption requires two parties – who is the other party – which caste ?

if you or I had made the ‘nuanced’ argument correlating caste & corruption, would we be out of line ? When Raj T says that a certain linguistic minority is responsible for crime, he is insulting. when Dr.Nandy says that SC, ST, OBC’s are primarily responsible for corruption – it is a nuanced argument. and this is the argument I made to my mother (who was trolling me on this post from the other room) – if a Noam Chomsky made a statement like this on African Americans & crime and said that it will save the American republic – he would have lost tenure.  I am still reeling at the defense put out on this statement.
I have heard statements like this in ‘polite’ drawing room conversations. “they’ are corrupt, ‘they’ are unruly, ‘they’ don’t follow the law, ‘they break the system, until ‘they’ came into the system, the system was good etc, etc. It is also in these conversations, I hear, questions on universal franchise – is it a bad idea. whether ‘they’ should vote – afte rall ‘they’ don’t pay taxes.

Statements like this, are bad news. In a rapidly changing India, in an aspirational India – targeting 70%+ of the population and labeling them as being corrupt. the very thought of it makes me angry. And, from someone whom i respected, whose works i have studied and whose books adorn my bookshelf- it is also more than anger, it is heart breaking.

This is almost in the same space as saying women who wear short clothes have a higher probability of being raped .. or something equally inane… and then justifying it by saying that it is a great equalizer …we would call out anyone who said that, and call people who defended that statement as regressive.
Yes, free speech is important, and i will defend Mr.Nandy’s right to free speech – but, i also have the right to say he has got it wrong.

Jan 032013

kho kho

What is development ? it is security to be who you are….
school girls playing kho kho in the area between the school and the temple. Sanaswadi, Shiroor, Pune District Maharashtra

school girls2

Girls in School, look at the smiles – you can’t buy these smiles. These smiles come from confidence, freedom and being wanted.

Everytime i feel depressed, i try and get back to basics – to one of these schools, far removed from the hustle, bustle and cynicism of everyday city life.
Is it perfect? No. Nothing is… but, is change taking place … perceptibly so.