Space Race and Future of Corporation

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Co-Working Spaces

In a lobby of a Paris building the size of an Olympic swimming pool, workers huddle in discussion on tan-leather sofas, sheltered by an ornate geometric glass ceiling. Other sit at long wooden tables next to a winter garden, tapping away on laptops with the uniformity of typing pool.

This lavish set-up was once HQ of France’s largest nuclear company, Areva. As at June it has been a co-working space: the first Parisian outpost of WeWork, a company founded in 2010 by Israeli Adam Neumann.

Shared offices have come a long way from the rough-and-ready creative co-ops that sprang  the concept of “co-working”. Big names in commercial real estate have entered the sector, assuming the fun-professional design vernacular and adding a Germanic twist to their branding  (think “haus” rather than “house”).

Even Regus, the pioneer of the serviced office, has turned its hands to hot desks. The industry is longer a fringe. At its last investment round WeWork was deemed to be worth US$20 billion. Its service model includes IT support, 24-hour access and a programme of cultural events. And then  there is the community, or the “ecosystem”.

Gig Economy

The success of this type of co-working concept is indicative of a whole raft of economic, cultural and social changes. Propelled by technology, the “gig economy” is evolving rapidly. A recent survey by the McKinsey Global Institute found that 162 million people in Europe and the US (20 to 30 per cent of the working-age population) engage in some form of independent work. Since the financial crisis, swathes of the workforce have chosen (or been pushed towards) a more agile, self-starting approach  to earning a living. In the UK the level of self-employment increased from 3.8 million in 2008 to 4.6 million in 2015. For these people a job is no longer for life; there are no salaries, just income.

It is not the first time in history that the concept of work has shifted dramatically. “So much of how we structure our time, of what we now conceive of as work, was set up in the wake of the industrial revolution, “ says Andrew Scott, a professor of economics at the London Business School. He adds that the very notions of the office, the weekend, retirement and even leisure are relatively new inventions. Though the majority of us still had a conventional job, he says, the trend towards more flexible job is clear—and it is already having a fundamental effect. “We are seeing a configuration of time and space.”

The Future of the Corporation

Kathryn Myronuk, chair emeritus of finance and economics at the Silicon Valley-based Singularity University, thinks the slide towards flexible working is only at its infancy. ”Slightly into the future we will see decentralized management too, “ she says. “ The equivalent of a whole corporation might be brought together for a month to tackle a problem that might be less expensive and more nimble than the 20th-century model of corporations. In that case professions that today have certainty will  become more unpredictable.”

The career, the firm and the office have been pillars of our society for decades. How will we cope without them? And are the co-working spaces that have sprung up  a genuine attempt to grapple with the fundamental transformation of work as we know it—or opportunistic  real-estate experiments? With rental prices, some companies appear to be cashing in on a new fiscally vulnerable freelance demographic. Often they are simply selling desk space to sole operators who  can’t afford and might just be lonely.

Most economists are quick to point out the paradox of flexibility. For some it can be liberating, dynamic and lucrative; for others anxiety inducing and financially unstable. “ It is a bit like when the factory was introduced; we have to think about the human side of this, “ says Scott.  “This is just a massive social experiment we don’t yet know  the result of.”

Myronuk likens these shifts in working practices to “economic climate change” and calls for a similar risk-calculating approach to the uncertain outlook.

Members of Co-Working Spaces

There are companies that appear genuinely offer their members this vibrant community.  NeueHouse, opened a co-working space a few blocks from New York’s Madison Square park five years ago and quickly amassed  a members base drawing from the world of films, fashion, art and the media. Its second venture is the CBS Radio Building on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, where members have access to to re-purposed sound stages and recording studios.

Meanwhile, others are seeking to build a meaningful social dimension into this burgeoning sector. Communal workshops that give users access to high-tech machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC machines (as well as training to use them) are also changing the picture. “We are making tool available that were previously only accessed on the university campus, “ says Thomas Ermacora, a trained architect and urbanist who runs Machines Room in London’s East End, one of the estimated 1,400 makerspaces globally.

In many ways co-working is a counter-cultural phenomenon come of age. The sector is now the subject of debate at big real-estate conferences, and property scions are seeking to replicate some of the most dynamic co-working projects that really did spring from an urge to collaborate (rather than to make money). Many might find, like the best restaurants, that it is a personal, grass-roots approach that is needed. Rather like art clubs that charge too much for any real artists to be able to afford the fees, the bottom could quickly fall out of creative ecosystems.

The Future

Some people really do just want to a quiet space to go and work and there is an argument that this what libraries should provide. With some small design tweaks, public-owned reading rooms around the world could be re-purposed to give agile (office-less) workers a landing pad.

In every cace, though, it is clear that a desk and a foosball are not enough to ensure the co-working space survives as a business model., particularly as competition gathers pace.

The issue of where we will all work in the future is far from certain; governments, architects and developers should start planning in earnest for the advent of  a truly itinerant labour market. They need to plan for the unforeseeable.

Source: Sophie Grove. Space Race. MONOCLE November 2017, Issue 108.

Electric and Autonomous car

Petrol Stations Would Wither Due to Car Electric Revolution

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It was reported recently that Shell, the oil giant, had bought a company, New Motion, a Dutch firm with 30,000 private charging points at home and offices in Europe. This is an interesting development, and it indicates that the oil giants are contemplating a business life after oil.

             Profitable business selling petrol

The downstream sector, especially the retailing of petroleum products such as gasoline (petrol) and diesel, contributes a major proportion of the oil giants’ revenue. A small developing country like Malaysia has a large petroleum products retail market. The local oil giants such as Petronas, Petron and Shell enjoyed billions of RM from sales of petroleum products. The size of the petroleum products market was worth more than RM60 billion in 2014, based on the annual reports of the three companies. If sales of other smaller players like BP Petroleum and Caltex are included, the total market would be more than RM65 billion.

According to Petroleum Dealers Association of Malaysia, there are more than 3,500 petrol stations in Malaysia. As petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel are volatile and are subject to stringent safety requirements, dedicated petrol outlets are required. The first modern petrol station was established in 1913  in US.

Over the years, petrol stations have added products such as foods and drinks, and some bigger petrol stations have attached fast-food restaurants. The sales of petroleum products still make up the biggest proportion of sales of the oil giants, which result in enormous profit for them.

The Expected Withering of the Petrol Stations  

The entry of Shell into the electric car charging business shows that the oil giants are facing a major disruption to its retailing of petroleum products business sector. These petrol stations have made the oil giants into well-known brands and corporate power.

The electric car revolution would have a major impact on the long-term viability of the petrol stations as a business. Electric cars will be embraced by consumers, first in the developed countries, followed by developing countries. Car manufacturers and other companies are racing each other to develop electric cars with longer range. Many countries such as Netherlands are encouraging cities and electricity generating companies to install charging stations at housing estates, homes, hypermarkets car parks and elsewhere.

Impact of the Oil Giants’ Revenue in Malaysia

Although the penetration of electric cars in Malaysia is still small, the Malaysian government is committed by international treaties to reduce toxic emission from fossil fuels. In addition, the price of electric cars will continue to decline as innovative companies such as Tesla and Nissan are developing denser batteries at cheaper prices.

                Electric car being charged

The adoption of electric cars in Malaysia will be patchy initially. We foresee tax incentives may spur consumers to purchase electric cars due to various reasons, such as convenience of recharging and advanced features of electric cars such as self-driving.  We foresee there would be no turning back to the adoption of electric cars in Malaysia.

The impact to the oil giants’ revenue would also be significant. At the market worth of petroleum products of more than RM65 billion per annum, a tenth reduction of consumption of petrol would amount to RM6.5 billion of lost revenue per year. The amount of lost revenue would be serious with higher adoption of electric cars. Tax revenue to the Malaysian government will also reduce as tax forms a major component of the price of petrol.

Shell believes that consumers will patronize its petrol stations to charge their electric cars. Currently, consumers have no choice but to go to petrol stations to fill-up petrol into their cars.

We expect that charging stations will be available in all sorts of locations as long as there is supply of electricity. Why should consumers go to a Shell petrol station to charge their electric cars when they can do it at homes?

Could we see the slow death of the ubiquitous petrol stations with the large logos of the oil giants standing high and can be seen from far?

Jobs and Automation

Automation and Jobs

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               Less Computerizable

Automation and Jobs

A report by Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford (The Report), has examined the susceptibility of jobs to computerization. The impact of computerisation on jobs (labour market) is well-established.  It is documented that there will be a decline in routine -intensive occupations, that is, occupations mainly consisting of task following well-defined procedures that can easily be performed by sophisticated algorithms.

At the same time, with falling prices of computers, problem-solving skills are becoming productive, which explains substantial employment growth in occupations involving cognitive tasks where skilled labour has a comparative advantage. According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2011), technological innovation is still increasing with more sophisticated technologies disrupting labour by making workers and employees redundant.

According to Autor, et al. (2003) workplace tasks can be categorized as follows:

  1. Routine versus non-routines tasks, and
  2. Manual versus cognitive tasks.

In short, routine tasks are defined as tasks that follow explicit rules that can be accomplished by machines while, while non-routine tasks are not sufficiently well understood in computer codes. Each of these task categories can, in turn, be of either manual or cognitive in nature, that is, they relate to physical labour or knowledge work.

Perception and Manipulation Tasks

Robots are still unable to match the depth and breadth of human perception. While basic geometric identification is reasonably mature, enabled by the rapid development of sophisticated sensors and lasers, significant challenges remain for more complex perception tasks, such as identifying objects and their properties in a cluttered field of view. As such, tasks that relate to an unstructured work environment can make jobs less susceptible to computerisation.  The difficulty of perception has ramifications for manipulation tasks. This is, in particular, the handling of irregular objects, for which robots are yet to reach human level of aptitude.

A related challenge is failure recovery, that is, identifying and rectifying the mistakes of the robot when it has, for example, dropped an object. Manipulation is also limited by the difficulties of planning out the sequence of actions required to move an object form one place to another.

The main challenges to robotic computerization, perception and manipulation, thus largely remain and are unlikely to be fully resolved in the next decade or two.

              Prone to computerization

Creative and Intelligence Tasks

The psychological processes underlying human creativity are difficult to specify. According to Borden (2003), creativity is the ability to come up with ideas or artifacts that are novel and valuable. Ideas, in a broader sense, include concepts, poems, musical compositions, scientific theories, cooking recipes and jokes, whereas artifacts are objects such as paintings, sculptures, machinery and pottery. One process of creating ideas (and similarly artifacts) involves making unfamiliar combinations of familiar ideas, requiring a rich store of knowledge. The challenge here is to find some reliable means of arriving at combinations that “make sense.”

It seems unlikely that occupations requiring a high degree of creative intelligence will be automated in the next decades.

Social Intelligence Tasks

Human social intelligence is important in a wide range of work tasks, such as those involving negotiations, persuasion and care. While algorithms and robots can reproduce some aspects of human social interaction, the real-time recognition of natural human emotion remains a challenging problem, and the ability to respond intelligently to such inputs is even more difficult. Even simplified versions of typical social tasks prove difficult for computers, as is the case in which social interaction is reduced to pure text.

The authors of the Oxford Martin School’s report noted that while sophisticated algorithms and development in MR, building upon big data now allow many non-routine tasks to be automated, occupations that involve complex perception and manipulation tasks, creative intelligence tasks, and social intelligence tasks are unlikely to be substituted by computer capital over the next decades or two.

The probability of an occupation being automated can thus be described as a function of these task characteristics.

Measuring Impact of Computerisation

The Report, using 702 detailed occupation information of the US Labour Department’s Standard Occupation Classification (SOC), has developed a model to measure the impact of computerization of various types of occupations.

Table 1 shows the top 20 occupations that are least-computerisable , while Table 2 shows the top 20 occupations that are most-computerisable.

Table 1: Top 20 Least-Computerisable

Rank Probability SOC Code Occupation
1 0.0028 29-1125 Recreational Therapists
2 0.003 49-1011 First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers and Repairers
3 0.003 11-9161 Emergency Management Directors
4 0.0031 21-1023 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
5 0.0033 29-1181 Audiologists
6 0.0035 29-1122 Occupational Therapists
7 0.0035 29-2091 Orthotists and Prosthetists
8 0.0035 21-1022 Healthcare Social Workers
9 0.0036 29-1022 Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
10 0.0036 33-1011 First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers
11 0.0039 29-2031 Dietitians and Nutritionists
12 0.0039 11-9081 Lodging Managers
13 0.004 27-2032 Choreographers
 14 0.0041 41-9031 Sales Engineers
15 0.0042 29-1060 Physicians and Surgeons
16 0.0042 25-9031 Instructional Coordinators
17 0.0043 19-3039 Psychologists and, All Others
18 0.0044 33-1012 First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
19 0.0044 29-1021 Dentists, General
20 0.0044 25-2021 Elementary School Teachers


Table 2: Top 20 Most-Computerisable


Rank Probability SOC Code Occupation
1 0.99 41-9041 Telemarketers
2 0.99 23-2093 Title Examiners, Abstractors and Searchers
3 0.99 51-6051 Sewers Hand
4 0.99 15-2091 Mathematical Technicians
5 0.99 13-2053 Insurance Underwriters
6 0.99 49-9064 Watch Repairers
7 0.99 43-5011 Cargo and Freight Agents
8 0.99 13-2082 Tax Preparers
9 0.99 51-9151 Photographic Process Workers
10 0.99 43-4141 New Account Clerks
11 0.99 25-4031 Library Technicians
12 0.99 43-9021 Data Entry Keyers
13 0.98 51-2093 Timing Device Assemblers and Adjusters
14 0.98 43-9041 Insurance Claims and Policy Processing Clerks
15 0.98 43-4011 Brokerage Clerks
16 0.98 43-4151 Order Clerks
17 0.98 13-2072 Loan Officers
18 0.98 27-2023 Umpires, Referees and Other Sport Officials
19 0.98 43-3071 Tellers
20 0.98 51-9194 Etchers and Engravers


Please see the whole list of 702 occupations in Appendix of Oxford Martin School’s Report.


The Report’s main conclusions are as follows:

  1. It distinguishes high, medium and low risk occupations, depending on their probability of computerisation. It makes no attempt to estimate the number of jobs that will actually be automated, and focus on potential job automatability over some unspecified number of years.
  2. It predicts that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk.
  3. It provides evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with the probability of computerization.
  4. It implies that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization, that is, tasks requiring creative and social intelligence.                                                                    For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.



  1. Carl Benedict Frey, and Micheal A. Osborne (20130, The future employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation. Working Paper, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.
    1. Brynjolfsson and E. McAffe (2011). Race against the machine: How the digital revolution is accelerating innovation, driving productivity, and irreversibility transforming employment and economy. Digital Frontiers Press, Lexington, MA.
  2. A. Boden (2003). The creative mind: Myths and mechanisms. Routledge.
  3. Autor, F. Levy and R. J. Murnane (2003). The skill content of recent technological change: Am empirical exploration. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 118, no.4, pp. 1279-1333.
Electric and Autonomous car

Investors Bet Big on Lithium’s Electric Car Future

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World’s biggest producer of lithium


The recent Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2917 saw major car companies exhibited several models of electric cars. Subsequently, investors are piling-up their bets on mining companies that are involved in lithium, the key component for making batteries for electric cars. BlackRock, one of the largest fund managers in the world, has emerged as a investor of lithium start-ups.

The BlackRock World Mining  Trust, which has more than £800 million in assets and is co-managed by Evy Hambro, has become the largest shareholder in a handful of small mining companies aiming to produce lithium for use in batteries.

Demand for lithium has surged as the first mass market electric vehicles (EVs) such as the Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet attract buyers. Growing demand for EVs has sparked a scramble to locate new supplies of lithium and prices have jumped about 26 per cent this year, making it one of the best performing commodities this year.

“Today the energy space is evolving towards a low carbon footprint and the combustion engine is going to be replaced with an alternative, “ Mr. Hambro said. “We want to be invested in companies that will be producing the raw materials that will be needed to meet this growth.”

Mr. Hambro is one of the world’s most influential mining investors, and his views are closely followed by the industry.

BlacRock’s investment parallels a growing investor interest in lithium as regulators push a transition to electric cars and battery costs continue to delcine. For example, assets in the Global X Lithium & Battery Tech exchange traded fund have quadrupled during  this year from US$114 million to $484 million, while the Solactive Global Lithium index, made up of 26 miners and battery makers, had delivered a total return of 51 per cent this year.

Lithium production is currently dominated by four large firms, Chile’s SQM, FMC, Albermarle and Tianqi Lithium. A number of smaller companies are racing to bring supply to market and get their materials  approved for use in batteries.

Over the past year around US$1.0 billion has been raised by lithium developers and explorers, but the funding will need to be increased to US$6.0 billion in 2025 to meet demand, according to Simon Moors of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence  in London, which tracks lithium prices.

A Boon for Sensor Makers   

Lithium producers are not only enjoying from electric car revolution. Sensor makers are also experiencing a boon. As electric cars become a reality, carmakers and their suppliers are confronting challenges that appeared less tangible when the dream of electric cars was a more  distant vision.

A self-driving car of the future will be quipped with at least 20 sensors using cameras, radar and lidar to “see” its surroundings.

Some of the data must be transmitted to the “cloud” so the car cam communicate with its surrounding, but programming the software to send only the relevant data is a central challenge, says Elmar Degenhart, chief executive of the parts supplier Continental.

He says a self-driving car collects raw data at a rate of up to 15 gigabytes per second. By comparison, a person watching Netflix in high definition at home would consume three gigabytes  of data per hour. “We need  a different kind of electronic architecture to handle these volumes of gigabytes, “ he says.

The energy just required to power these self-driving systems is so great that a prototype electric car with a 400 km range can drive only 200 km autonomously, notes Scott Gallett, vice-president of marketing for BorgWarner, a maker of propulsion systems.

Sensors in an autonomous car

“One of the things people don’t talk about is just how much energy is really required by by the computers, the sensors, the radars, “he says. “Some of the prototypes out right now require just as much as energy as it does to propel the vehicle.”

Mr. Gallett believes that hybrid vehicles—often considered as a stop-gap measure to full electric cars— will experience a lengthier phase  than many assume, because if autonomous technologies become popular  then cars driven solely by batteries might not have enough energy to power bith the car and the computing system.

“Don’t think autonomous  equals elecytric,” he adds.

Reference: FTWeekend 16 September/17 September 2017