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AUTOMATION WILL MAKE LIFELONG LEARNING A NECESSARY PART OF WORK

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As more companies adopt and learn through digital solutions, and as new forms of employment and investment opportunities strengthen the demand recovery, we expect productivity growth to recover, write James Manyika and Myron Scholes in Project Syndicate.

For years, one of the big puzzles in economics has been accounting for declining productivity growth in the United States and other advanced economies. Economists have proposed a wide variety of explanations, ranging from inaccurate measurement to “secular stagnation” to questioning whether recent technological innovations are productive.

But the solution to the puzzle seems to lie in understanding economic interactions, rather than identifying a single culprit. And on that score, we may be getting to the bottom of why productivity growth has slowed.

Examining the decade since the 2008 financial crisis – a period remarkable for the sharp deterioration in productivity growth across many advanced economies – we identify three outstanding features: historically low growth in capital intensity, digitization, and a weak demand recovery. Together these features help explain why annual productivity growth dropped 80%, on average, between 2010 and 2014, to 0.5%, from 2.4% a decade earlier.

Start with historically weak capital-intensity growth, an indication of the access labor has to machinery, tools, and equipment. Growth in this average toolkit for workers has slowed – and has even turned negative in the US.

In the 2000-2004 period, capital intensity in the US grew at a compound annual rate of 3.6%. In the 2010-2014 period, it declined at a compound annual rate of 0.4%, the weakest performance in the postwar period. A breakdown of the components of labor productivity shows that slowing capital-intensity growth contributed about half or more of the decline in productivity growth in many countries, including the US.

Growth in capital intensity has been weakened by a substantial slowdown in investment in equipment and structures. Making matters worse, public investment has also been in decline. For example, the US, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom experienced a long-term decline of 0.5-1 percentage point in public investment between the 1980s and early 2000s, and the figure has been roughly flat or decreasing since then, creating significant infrastructure gaps.

Intangible investment, in areas such as software and research and development, recovered far more quickly from a brief and smaller post-crisis dip in 2009. Continued growth in such investment reflects the wave of digitization – the second outstanding feature of this period of anemic productivity growth – that is now sweeping across industries.

By digitization, we mean digital technology – such as cloud computing, e-commerce, mobile Internet, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) – that is moving beyond process optimization and transforming business models, altering value chains, and blurring lines across industries. What differentiates this latest wave from the 1990s boom in information and communications technology (ICT) is the breadth and diversity of innovations: new products and features (for example, digital books and live location tracking), new ways to deliver them (for example, streaming video), and new business models (for example, Uber and TaskRabbit).

However, there are also similarities, particularly regarding the effect on productivity growth. The ICT revolution was visible everywhere, the economist Robert Solow famously noted, except in the productivity statistics. The Solow Paradox, as it was known (after the economist), was eventually resolved when a few sectors – technology, retail, and wholesale – ignited a productivity boom in the US. Today, we may be in round two of the Solow Paradox: while digital technologies can be seen everywhere, they have yet to fuel productivity growth.

MGI research has shown that sectors that are highly digitized in terms of assets, usage, and worker enablement – such as the tech sector, media, and financial services – have high productivity. But these sectors are relatively small in terms of share of GDP and employment, whereas large sectors such as health care and retail are much less digitized and also tend to have low productivity.

MGI research also suggests that while digitization promises significant productivity-boosting opportunities, the benefits have not yet materialized at scale. In a recent McKinsey survey, global firms reported that less than a third of their core operations, products, and services were automated or digitized.

This may reflect adoption barriers and lag effects, as well as transition costs. For example, in the same survey, companies with digital transformations under way said that 17% of their market share in core products or services was cannibalized by their own digital products or services. Moreover, less than 10% of the information generated and that flows through corporations is digitized and available for analysis. As these data become more readily available through blockchains, cloud computing, or IoT connections, new models and artificial intelligence will enable corporations to innovate and add value through previously unseen investment opportunities.

The last feature that stands out in this period of historically slow productivity growth is weak demand. We know from corporate decision-makers that demand is crucial for investment. For example, an MGI survey conducted last year found that 47% of companies increasing their investment budgets were doing so because of an increase in demand or demand expectations.

Across industries, the slow recovery in demand following the financial crisis was a key factor holding back investment. The crisis increased uncertainty about the future direction in consumer and investment demand. The decision to invest and boost productivity was correctly deferred. When demand started to recover, many industries had excess capacity and room to expand and hire without needing to invest in new equipment or structures. That led to historically low capital-intensity growth – the single biggest factor behind anemic productivity growth – in the 2010-2014 period.

But, as more companies adopt and learn through digital solutions, and as new forms of employment and investment opportunities strengthen the demand recovery, we expect productivity growth to recover. Myriad factors contribute to productivity gains, but it is the twenty-first century’s steam engine – digitization, data, and its analysis – that will power and transform economic activity, add value, and enable income-boosting and welfare-enhancing productivity gains.

 

 

 

 

Source: Project Syndicate

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Industry

THE FINTECH REVOLUTION IN INSURANCE

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Advancing technology has collided with longstanding customer issues to create a series of deep, lasting, systemic challenges for insurance. How will these trends impact insurers’ businesses and the industry overall?

The rise of fintech, changing consumer behavior, and advanced technologies are disrupting the insurance industry. Additionally, Insurtechs and technology startups continue to redefine customer experience through innovations such as risk-free underwriting, on-the-spot purchasing, activation, and claims processing.

The report from Deloitte Global examines forces that are disrupting the insurance industry and presents four possible scenarios for the future. We explore:

  • Changing the channel: Partnerships with product makers and distributors, and embedding insurance into other products and services may enable customers to select products that best fit their lifestyle.
  • Underwriting by machine: Technology advancements including AI innovations and algorithms will likely individualize risk selection and pricing, and customers can select products based on a wider range of price points.
  • Rise of the flexible product: Time-flexible, event-driven, modular and adjustable coverage may evolve to accommodate life stage, lifestyle, and wellness changes among consumers.
  • E-Z life insurance: Given the growth and shopping patterns in emerging markets, insurers who introduce flexible term products, and master digital distribution without compromising underwriting are likely to win in the marketplace.

Read the report to understand what the future holds for the insurance industry.

Key Contact

Neal Baumann

Neal Baumann

Global Insurance Leader

Neal leads Deloitte’s Global Insurance practice and is the US insurance consulting leader. He has 20 years of experience advising financial services and insurance company clients on corporate and comp… More

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Industry

GOOGLE NEVER REALLY LEFT CHINA: A LOOK AT THE CHINESE WEBSITE GOOGLE’S BEEN QUIETLY RUNNING

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More information is leaking out about just how Google is planning to re-enter the Chinese market with a mobile search engine application that complies to the country’s censorship laws.

The Intercept first broke this story when a whistleblower provided them documentation detailing the secret censored search project (codenamed Dragonfly). According to them, an overlooked Google acquisition from 2008 — 265.com — has been quietly laying down the foundation for the endeavor.

In order to run a business in China, tech companies are required to obtain a Internet Content Provider license from the Chinese government. As it’s difficult for foreign businesses to obtain this license, Google has long partnered with Chinese IT company Ganji.com. Back in the early years of Google.cn, Google actually operated directly off of Ganji.com’s license, even claiming the Chinese company was temporarily running its search engine. Facing intense scrutiny from the Chinese government and the media over this license arrangement, in 2007 Google formed a legitimate joint venture company with Ganji.com — the Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co.

Because of the necessity of that license, Google has maintained that joint venture and has been operating in China under the name Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co. ever since. Even after the shut down of Google.cn, Google’s Chinese advertising enterprise has been operating under the joint venture company as well as, low and behold, 265.com. A whois search of the 265.com domain name, which provides a record of the current domain registrant information, pulls up Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co. as the registrant organization.

A significant number of Google employees are reportedly none too happy about Google’s project complying with Chinese censorship laws. This most recent news, that the company has long been collecting data for a moment just like this, surely won’t make morale among these workers any better.

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WHISTLEBLOWER REVEALS GOOGLE’S PLANS FOR CENSORED SEARCH IN CHINA

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Google is reportedly planning to relaunch its search engine in China, complete with censored results to meet the demands of the Chinese government. The company originally shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, citing government attempts to “limit free speech on the web.” But according to a report from The Interceptthe US tech giant now wants to return to the world’s biggest single market for internet users.

According to internal documents provided to The Intercept by a whistleblower, Google has been developing a censored version of its search engine under the codename “Dragonfly” since the beginning of 2017. The search engine is being built as an Android mobile app and will reportedly “blacklist sensitive queries” and filter out all websites blocked by China’s web censors (including Wikipedia and BBC News). The censorship will extend to Google’s image search, spell check, and suggested search features.

The web is heavily censored in China, with the country’s so-called Great Firewall stopping citizens from accessing many sites. Information on topics like religion, police brutality, freedom of speech, and democracy are heavily filtered, while specific search topics (like the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and Taiwanese independence) are censored completely. Advocacy groups report that censorship in the country has increased under President Xi Jinping, extending beyond the web to social media and chat apps.

The whistleblower who spoke to The Intercept said they did so because they were “against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people.” They also suggested that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

Patrick Poon, a researcher with Amnesty International, agreed with this assessment. Poon told The Intercept that if Google launches a censored version of its search engine in China it will “set a terrible precedent” for other companies. “The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government — it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more,” said Poon.

In a statement given to The Verge, a spokesperson said: “We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”

According to The Intercept, Google faces a number of substantial barriers before it can launch its new search app in China, including approval from officials in Beijing and “confidence within Google” that the app will be better than its main rival in China, Baidu.

Google previously offered a censored version of its search engine in China between 2006 and 2010, before pulling out of the country after facing criticism in the US. (Politicians said the company was acting as a “functionary of the Chinese government.”) In recent months, though, the company has been attempting to reintegrate itself into the Chinese commercial market. It launched an AI research lab in Beijing last December, a mobile file management app in January, and an AI-powered doodle game just last month.

Although this suggests Google is eager to get a slice of China’s huge market of some 750 million web users, ambitions to relaunch its search engine may yet go nowhere. Reports in past years of plans to bring the Google Play mobile store to China, for example, have so far come to nothing, and Google regularly plans out projects it ultimately rejects.

Notably, relations between China and the US have worsened in recent weeks due to trade tariffs imposed by President Trump. The Interceptreports that despite this Google staff have been told to be ready to launch the app at short notice. The company’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, reportedly told employees last month that they must be prepared in case “suddenly the world changes or [President Trump] decides his new best friend is Xi Jinping.”

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