Brave new digital world – are we ready?

An avalanche of technological breakthroughs has already changed how we do things, so where will that leave the global workforce?

Professor Richard Baldwin: "We should be both nervous and excited about the future."

If the old rules no longer apply, how will countries do business, what skills will be valued and who will be the winners and losers in the new digital world?

A leading expert in globalisation, economist Professor Richard Baldwin will be joining other international and New Zealand experts in addressing these issues at Disruptions and Disruptors, the Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School (ATEPS) at the University of Auckland from 6 to 7 September 2019.

A Seelye Visiting Fellow, Professor Baldwin is being hosted by the Public Policy Institute, which is planning for this inaugural school to become a yearly event.

According to Professor Baldwin's latest book, The Globotics Upheaval: Globalisation, Robotics and the Future of Work (2019), we should be both nervous and excited about the future, depending on whether we're poised to benefit or lose out.

"Whereas globalisation up to now has largely been about what we make, in the near future, it will be about what we do," he says, "and digital technology will make it much easier to ship people's services across borders."

A professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Dr Baldwin says that as global goods trading works by arbitrage – the practice of taking advantage of a price between two or more markets and capitalising on the imbalance – the same process can be applied to workers' skills.

"With new technology like workplace messaging app Slack and virtual and augmented reality making remote employees more easily 'telepresent' in a foreign company, white-collar workers from emerging economies can slot in to western companies at about a tenth of the usual labour price."

Whereas globalisation up to now has largely been about what we make, in the near future, it will be about what we do.

Professor Richard Baldwin Faculty of Arts Seelye Visiting Fellow

Add in the fact that Google breakthroughs in translation software will effectively remove the language barrier that has impeded this way of working up to now, and white-collar workers in western countries – who have largely avoided the redundant fate of their blue-collar colleagues – will no longer be immune to digital disruption, he says.

And with machine learning – a subset of AI where computers are able to use an algorithm that allows them to 'learn' how to do a task without human instruction – then jobs traditionally done by skilled professionals in everything from assessing insurance claims to making a medical diagnosis can be automated.

All of which leaves governments and the international trade policy community urgently needing a new set of rules and policies governing trade and economics which take into account crucial factors like social inclusion in an unpredictable and ever-changing environment.

Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School

Disruptions and Disruptors, the Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School on 6 to 7 September is being hosted at the University of Auckland's Fale Pasifika by the Public Policy Institute.

Leading economists, academics, trade experts, exporters, business leaders and diplomats from Asia, North America and Europe will join New Zealand experts to offer their own insights into these challenges, and how a country like New Zealand can best respond to them.

Other international experts include: Mari Pangestu, Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, Sherry Stephenson, Lucian Cernat, Fukunari Kimura, and Zhang Jianping.

New Zealand's Minister for Trade and Export Growth, the Hon. David Parker, and Deputy Secretary Vangelis Vitalis will also be speaking. ATEPS is hosted in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Media contact

Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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