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Are you prepared for the new era of automation and artificial intelligence?

A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) studies the degree of readiness of different countries ahead of an ever increasing presence of  technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence. The study includes a series of in-depth interviews with experts in different fields, among them, Elena Alfaro, Head of Customer Solutions Analytics & Open Innovation at BBVA.

Teresa Alameda (BBVA Creative)

South Korea, Germany and Singapore are the countries best prepared to integrate automation and artificial intelligence into their economies, according to the report carried out by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and ABB, Who is ready for the coming wave of automation?, which includes the opinion of 20 experts in areas such as economics, technology, robotics and employment along with an index based on the analysis of 25 countries.

To gauge the state of readiness, the index compares the existence in each region of specific policies and strategies in areas such as innovation, education and the labor market. “The challenges and opportunities of intelligent automation require a robust policy response informed by multi-stakeholder engagement but, so far, both are lacking”, the report says. The study shows that for the moment there is “a small handful” of initiatives along these lines and according to the experts interviewed, no country has taken “the bull by the horns” in preparing for the appearance of these technologies.

“Coordinating multi-stakeholder activity in this field is enormously complex,”, explains Elena Alfaro, Head of Customer Solutions Analytics & Open Innovation at BBVA, who was one of the experts consulted by the EIU for the report. “We have to move fast and cannot afford to wait for governments or other institutions to take the initiative,” Alfaro said.

Despite government backing for the adoption of new technologies, the report points out that companies have no “time to lose” and are rapidly incorporating the use of advanced artificial intelligence and robotics in their operations. ““We are using artificial intelligence today to automate many of our internal processes, including risk management, fraud detection, document classification and compliance, and also customer-facing processes in contact centers, online and in our branches.”, Alfaro says.

The analysis in the report is based on a new and original index built by The Economist Intelligence Unit, as well as a series of in-depth interviews with experts from around the world. - The Economist Intelligence Unit

Ongoing education and training

Only a handful of countries (South Korea, Germany and Singapore, which top the index) have introduced individual initiatives in areas such curriculum change, ongoing learning, occupational training and flexibility in the work place. Even in these countries, as the report points out, implementation is still “nascent”. The study notes a significant gap between high-income and medium- and low-income countries. However, low-income economies reliant on agriculture are less exposed to the risks of automation than medium-income countries with a broad manufacturing basis, which are more exposed to these risks, the report says.

China, which is ranked 12th in the index, bucks this trend. China is an “exceptional” case within the ranks of medium-income countries with an economy heavily reliant on manufacturing but at the same time with a government firmly focused on meeting the challenges of automation through changes in education and training programs that impart new skills.

At the bottom of the index rankings are emerging countries such Brazil and Colombia and in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia where the shortcomings of the educational system constitute serious obstacles, according to the report. The middle rankings are occupied by developed countries that fall short of the efforts required to gear their industries, economies and population such as Italy, Russia and Turkey.

The study concludes that Western countries with economies that are considered strong need to introduce policies and plans to help individuals and companies to get the best out of the opportunities presented by these technologies. It also points to the inevitable need to create strategies to offset the negative effects of the disappearance of certain types of jobs. In both cases, policies and strategies are required to help workers make the transition to an automated economy.

BBVA Group Executive Chairman Francisco González has emphasized the importance of education in dealing with the uncertainty created in traditional sectors by technological change in the short term. The BBVA chairman has also stressed the importance of active management of these changes by the political authorities in the transition period to protect people rather than jobs that become obsolete and to achieve greater wealth distribution.