One of the biggest questions on everybody’s lips these days is the effects that technology will have on the job market in the future.

All of this hinges on machine learning and the fact that a significant potion of this effect has to do with machine learning. A recent article on points out that machine learning across the world is progressing quickly.

Demonstrable effects

The article points out that Australia’s economy benefits the most from machine learning under scenarios which assume upskilling in the labour force and greater investment in technology.

The UK economy would be the worst hit, averaging negative growth, under the scenario that assumes insufficient policy support to address structural changes in the economy.

The article adds that a new study just released by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ran three econometric scenarios to 2030 on five countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and developing Asia as a whole.

Critical assumptions

In ‘Risks and rewards: Scenarios around the economic impact of machine learning’, commissioned by Google, two scenarios assumed greater human productivity through upskilling and greater investment in technology and access to open source data, while the third assumed insufficient policy support for structural changes in the economy.

The article points out that the results showed that, although the fears of those pessimistic about the impact of machine learning in particular – and artificial intelligence in general – may be overblown, the optimists’ claims are not entirely supported, either.

The other area of the study, a look at the impact of machine learning on four industries, reaches a similar conclusion. Transportation, healthcare, energy and manufacturing are already benefiting from the use of machine learning, and will continue to do so over the forecast period, but many of these benefits will be incremental improvements in safety and efficiency rather than massive step changes.

The article adds that for firms both developing machine learning and those using it, the reports finds that communication between themselves, and with the public and policymakers, needs to improve. This includes doing better to manage expectations around the impact of machine learning, acknowledging the potential risks as well as the rewards, improving trust and transparency, and educating the public so that knowledge gaps are not filled with misinformation and distortion.

Policymakers, for their part, face a number of important choices with regards to machine learning and its impact. Chief among them is investing in skills and education, and not just STEM skills. The demand for “soft skills,” such as team building and critical thinking, is set to rise, which means technical education and training alone will not help economies to cope with the churn in labour markets machine learning is likely to cause.

Key investments

The article points out that getting policy right on data and investing in R&D and technology will also be critical. The concerns of citizens about privacy and the security of personal data need to be assuaged so that data can continue to flow within and between countries. The public sector also needs to return to investing in R&D so that it isn’t only the private sector that is advancing technology.

The article adds that Chris Clague, the editor of the report, said: “The debate over the impact of machine learning, and artificial intelligence, is an important one and like all important debates, it needs to be reasonable and informed. Our objective with this report is to help with that cause by charting a path between the techno-utopians who believe these technologies will solve all the world’s problems and the pessimists who warn that they are dooming us to a jobless, dystopian future.”

An important ecosystem

The development of machine learning is important because the e-commerce market is going to be a primary trading point in the future. A recent article on explores this in more detail.

The article points out that the global e-commerce market is exploding and is estimated to increase to US$4.5 trillion in 2021. There are some powerful businesses that barely existed a decade ago that act as testaments to the extraordinary opportunities ahead of us.

Mobile has become the main touch point with customers and they expect the kind of customer experience and convenience that we take for granted today, whether we’re ordering a ride or paying through WeChat. Whether it’s secure payment, returns, last mile, cross-border – or a multitude of others such as fulfilment, tracking, transport, even shopping cart management, each element is part of a highly complex ecosystem supported by logistics which is the engine of global e-commerce.

The article adds that while we’re not going to be able to predict exactly how e-commerce is going to evolve, there are a few areas that we believe are important:

Investment in infrastructure

The article points out that a virtual buying-and-selling world must be rooted in the physical, and there is not enough focus on what happens from the mobile phone onward.

This is equally important for retailers – there is an incredible opportunity for retailers to leverage their infrastructure in combination with the kind of services FedEx provides.

Distinguishing between local and global needs

The article adds that what China needs and wants is very different from Singapore or Japan. For instance – in arguably the world’s leading market, China – we are using WeChat to enable mobile payments.

We also need to separate out what are essentially local delivery challenges – what we call “last mile” – as opposed to what’s needed globally.

Increasing efficiency and convenience in delivery

Residential e-commerce is the fastest growing market and requires innovation to make delivery to consumers more efficient. As more and more consumers shop online, we have to expand alternative delivery options from having a package shipped directly to their doorstep to self-collection solutions like 7/11 and locker boxes, to more flexible and convenient customized home deliveries.

The article points out that we also need to gear more services to small and medium-sized businesses, who need access to a logistics network that helps them achieve profitable and scalable global growth, to ship seamlessly to international locations.

Another area is returns, which may not sound glamorous but is an increasingly important part of the picture for global e-commerce. E-commerce has a much higher rate of returns than brick and mortar purchases – it ranges from 15% to as high as 30%, and we must increase confidence if cross-border commerce is to grow.

The article adds that with 90% of logistics happening behind the mobile phone, there are no apps or innovations that can replace the aircraft, trucks, or other infrastructure that enables the physical transportation and delivery of goods around the world every day. We must keep evolving to meet the changing needs that digital and e-commerce is bringing. FedEx believes the future for e-commerce must be viewed within a wider framework as a complex ecosystem.