A new study by Ducker Frontier revealed that Puerto Rico could create between 26 and 34 percent additional jobs with the successful implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) in the public and private sectors.
On Nov. 5, during the second annual Microsoft AI+ Tour held at the Sheraton Hotel and Casino in San Juan's Convention District, Pablo González, director of Ducker Frontier Latin America, discussed with THE WEEKLY JOURNAL the entity’s most recent analysis of Puerto Rico’s advancement in adopting AI and other emerging technologies.
AI, as defined by Microsoft Caribbean General Manager Herbert Lewy, is an amplification of human ingenuity, “a tool that allows humans to achieve more and improve the things we normally do.”
The continuous progress of this booming technology has prompted a myriad of concerns and dystopian scenarios regarding automation, such as computers rendering humans obsolete at a plethora of jobs and services, thus amplifying economic disparity.
“People think that if an algorithm can do 30 percent of our tasks they will get fired from their jobs. The study intends to demystify this perception and shed light on some issues… We also wanted to measure something that is almost never measured, which is the creation of new industries and, therefore, jobs that do not exist today to reach a net effect of how it will affect job availability in Puerto Rico,” González explained.
According to González, a thorough AI implementation in all sectors would be able to simplify tasks and boost productivity earnings. For example, the study concluded that the public sector could obtain productivity earnings of 92 percent, while the tourism sector could see increased productivity earnings of 77 percent.
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Moreover, incorporating AI into the island’s different economic sectors would fill the unemployment gap of 466,000 people in the labor market due to the creation of new industries that this technology would generate.
When asked to specify which sectors would create more jobs thanks to AI, González affirmed that business services would increase by 50 percent; manufacturing—which is a key player in the local economy—would rise by 33 percent; and trade, hotels and tourism would see a 29 percent upsurge in new jobs.
“In Puerto Rico right now, 50 percent of jobs are high-level, which is well above any other country in Latin America and could be raised to 58 percent. There would be gains in re-qualification in all sectors. This means that the average salary would increase in all sectors which, in turn, has an impact on the economy because people would be inclined to spend more money,” González affirmed.
The regional Ducker Frontier director observed that the consensus among economists is that Puerto Rico’s economy will have grown by 1.6 percent in 2030, but with optimal AI use it could grow by 2.7 percent or even 3.8 percent. For context, he noted that Puerto Rico’s economy hasn’t grown by more than 2 percent since 2002.
However, these numbers can only be achieved by successful training and by redefining the island’s educational model, Lewy warned.
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The Microsoft Caribbean general manager shared some key findings from several sources, such as DXC Technology Co. and The Economist, which revealed that 30 percent of the professionals that would be required to address the projects that will be generated by means of digital transformation would not be available.
That is to say that there will be a noticeable gap unless the issue is addressed with urgency - by educating people on the skills that are necessary to adopt these technologies promptly.
“If Puerto Rico manages to transform itself faster, this gap [between the island and other neighboring countries] is likely to create an international competitive advantage,” Lewy stated.
On this topic, González said that Puerto Rico’s main challenge is to retain local talent, and to create startups that extend their services to the Caribbean, Latin America and even the U.S. mainland.
“Perhaps Puerto Rico may lag a little behind the United States, but it is the leader when we compare it to Latin America. It has the highest rate of university students, for example; it has the second-highest rate of digital skills in the population and it has the highest rate of companies’ use of digital tools,” he said.
González also stated that companies should continue investing in device connectivity and computing power because this will allow them to improve their data collection and algorithms. “Data is the new currency,” Lewy added.
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Overall, Ducker Frontier concluded in its study that AI offers the benefits of better jobs, greater earnings and much more growth. The only downside or challenge would be ensuring equal opportunities under the AI revolution.
This, the study states, can be achieved by training the workers of today and tomorrow, making quality education accessible to all Puerto Ricans and ensuring that all companies and businesses have access to forefront technologies.
“Puerto Rico can benefit greatly at the structural level with the opportunities brought by technologies such as the cloud or artificial intelligence. For this to happen, it becomes imperative to foster the capabilities of the future workforce, and promote the development of the technical skills of current workers. If we collaborate in an agile way, we will be able to take advantage of the available technology... to generate more equitable societies,” Lewy asserted.
Editor's note: This story was published on the November 6 print edition of The Weekly Journal.