Monday, May 27, 2013

On the job, waiting...

It is said that India will surpass China in terms of the number of 'working-age' population sometime in the next decade. That would be a whopping billion (mostly the next generation) from India and another billion from China alone!

While this phenomenon is being hailed as the 'demographic dividend' by many, a few foresee this as 'demographic disaster'. They say it is a potent mega-ton-arab-rising building up. The sad part is that nothing seems to be evident at this point which tilts the outlook in the favor of a dividend rather than a disaster. Neither are strong actions being taken to strengthen and retain the fundamentally agrarian nature of this populace nor are adequate steps being taken to create industries (what will actually kick-start this demand-supply cycle? factories? who will fund these industries? government?) that could provide a suitable employment opportunity. One facet of this problem is that most (70 to 85%) of the 'jobs' that seem to be getting created are in the so called 'informal sector' (read: plain wage earners, no papers, no security, short-term)

Lets zoom in a bit more here. Two 'jobs' that seem to have a huge demand in the rapidly 'urbanizing' India are: drivers/ chauffeurs and security guards. Informal, mostly. Most of their time on these jobs are spent waiting. A driver spends a couple of hours every day actually driving and the guard spends the entire day sitting on a chair 'guarding', which is again waiting (and watching their employers who seem to be from a different planet altogether). Hundreds of thousands of youngsters in India today thus spend hundreds of thousands of hours just waiting. An idle mind, they say, is the devil's workshop. And some of these people are even graduates! I can only imagine that a graduate devil's workshop will be scarier!

Well, some employment is anyway better than no employment. Right? Agree :-). My only wish is that someone comes up with a better way to utilize their 'bench' times. Here are the key ingredients: lots and lots of people. Almost all of them have mobile phones. And a lot of idle time. Imagine if all the complex human jobs could be divided into snack sized sachet jobs? Now put all of these together to create a solution.
Another way to look at this is to take an inspiration from the way a computer works. There are many layers of abstraction here. The web-browser that you are reading this very blog on is at the top-most layer in the stack. As you go a level deeper, you will hit a standard instruction set that tells the microprocessor to store something, move it, add it etc. Dig down and you will find that everything boils down to an immense array of transistors switching as logic gates. Your computer is just an orchestrated machine with millions of identical and individually simple (and microscopic) electronic toggle switches that can together be instructed to perform seemingly complex routines.
I am not sure what the solution should exactly be :(. I don't even know if it is even possible to actually develop one! However, I do know that it could make a (huge) difference for both the employed and the unemployed and their nations. To rephrase the challenge:

Create snack-jobs; reduce the unit definition of a job from a month/ week/ day to maybe a couple of minutes. Create a platform to automatically break down seemingly complex problems/ jobs/ tasks (which are best done by a human) into a very large set of smaller but simpler tasks (that do not require any specialized skill or education to execute), orchestrate a massive distribution of these jobs using mobile phones and an aggregation of the results using technology in real-time or near real time, featuring necessary error corrections through crowd-sourcing. Present the output to the systems that require it. Provision some form of incentive to each of the human contributors. Also, possibly allow for people to move up the skill chain to handle more and more complex abstraction layers.

Perhaps it would pan out as puzzle games that are simple at first but get more and more difficult on level ups?   A micro way to perhaps address a macro problem? Any takers?

Read more:
India’s demographic challenge: Wasting time | The Economist

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