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The rise of artificial intelligence is disrupting traditional pathways to economic development for the developing world, says one observer.

BEIJING: Most studies of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on jobs and the economy have focused on developed countries such as the US and Britain.

But, through my work as a scientist, technology executive and venture capitalist in the US and China, I’ve come to believe that the gravest threat AI poses is to emerging economies.


In recent decades, China and India have presented the world with two different models for how such countries can climb the development ladder.

In the China model, a nation leverages its large population and low costs to build a base of blue-collar manufacturing. It then steadily works its way up the value chain by producing better and more technology-intensive goods.

In the India model, a country combines a large English-speaking population with low costs to become a hub for outsourcing of low-end, white-collar jobs in fields such as business-process outsourcing and software testing.

If successful, these relatively low-skilled jobs can be slowly upgraded to more advanced white-collar industries.

Both models are based on a country’s cost advantages in the performance of repetitive, non-social and largely uncreative work – whether manual labour in factories or cognitive labour in call centres.

Unfortunately for emerging economies, AI thrives at performing precisely this kind of work.

Indian employees at a call centre provide service support to international customers, in the southern city of Bangalore. (Photo: REUTERS/Sherwin Crasto)
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