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After twelve years of turmoil and dramatic changes in the daily life of Greeks, Greece is looking toward a better future—a future of economic recovery, lower unemployment and rising living standards. Nevertheless, twelve years is a very long time in the world of technology. It is more than certain that recovery will make life much better, but it will not take Greeks back to the pre-crisis world of the mid-2000s.
As the Greek economy glided into recession, technological change and digital transformation in the world accelerated noticeably. Greece is returning to a global economy that has been radically changed. In the island of Crete, there are some of the country’s most academically acclaimed and reputable multi-disciplinary, research-oriented institutions, located in the cities of Chania, Rethymnon and Heraklion.
The role of science and technology in the local society may be broadly stated as one of the most critical factors in terms of the technological innovation and scientific advancement and of realizing long-term national goals for the next century.
Hephaestus, god of technology, was hard at work on his most creative invention yet. He was creating an intelligent defense system for King Minos, who desired fewer intruders on his island kingdom, the wonderful Crete.
Nonetheless, mortal protectors and ordinary defensed weapons wouldn’t suffice, so the visionary and creative god devised an indomitable and supernatural new defender. In the fires of his forge, Hephaestus cast his invention in the shape of a gigantic human creature.
Made of gleaming bronze; endowed with phenomenal strength, and powered by ichor, the life fluid of the ancient gods, this mechanism was unlike anything Hephaestus had forged before. The god named his formation Talos: the first robot.
Talos’ task was relatively simple: to run around the island of Crete three times a day and keep away unwelcomed visitors by either throwing huge stones at their ships or by heating himself red hot and then enfolding them in a fiery embrace.
Talos’ body had a single vein, which ran all the way from his neck to his ankle, sealed there with either a bronze nail or a thin membrane of skin.
Through this vein, all of Talos’ life-fluid, ichor – the blood of the gods – ran, making the giant vulnerable the same way the ancient semi-immortal hero of Greeks Achilles was: for all of his frame of bronze, and all of his strength and might, he faced certain death if one merely punctured his ankle.
As Jason and the Argonauts approached the shores of Crete, Talos noticed their ship and tried warding it off in his usual, ever effective manner. And who knows – he might have been successful yet again, had Medea not traveled on the Argo as well.
Fearless, she mounted on the deck of the ship, and after invoking the Death-spirits (the Keres) several times, she bewitched the eyes of Talos in such a manner that the bronze man was unable to see before him a sharp crag on which he, subsequently, grazed his ankle.
The ichor gushed forth like melted lead, and Talos fell on the ground with the mighty thud of a huge pine.
Before the economic crisis hit Greece, digital transformation, automation and Internet of Things (IoT) were a niche topic outside of a few countries like Japan, the USA and Denmark. The world was in the center of its last artificial intelligence (AI) twilight.
Europe was losing thousands of jobs to lower-wage economies in Asia (China, Korea, Taiwan, India, Turkey), not to machines or the automation systems. Nowadays, things are totally different.
Digital technologies are currently rapidly change the dynamics of businesses’ prosperity, management process, work-force performance and productivity, and consumer choices.
Companies, organizations and firms in this diverse digital economy can now much more efficiently foster and implement lean processes and greener production standards to generate new and safer jobs, state-of-the-art applications and more customized products and services.
Evidence shows, at the level of firms and industries, that digital technology and automation causes job losses in some cases and job gains in others. Job growth is not uniform across all industries or sectors, however. In many industries-including the real estate sector-, the number of people employed shrank considerably.
Nevertheless, the number of companies and industries which experience employment growth exceeds the number in which jobs are cut and the productivity has been drastically improved.
Greece is no different. Its state policymakers are carefully planning how to take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (Industry 4.0), while managing effectively the disruptive effects. They are dealing with several challenges and questions that are not easy to answer.
Will new technologies hold Greece back (because of the lack of knowledge and its brain drain) or accelerate its recovery? Does Greece has the ability to thrive in a world of accelerating technological change?
There are no easy answers because each question should take into account several factors. Firstly, how many new companies or startups can enter the market and how the governmental (and the EU) authorities can help them to flourish? Which are the standards or the tools to be implemented? Secondly, it is about increasing productivity or creating knowledge and sharing this knowledge?
In the second case, very small (1-5 employees) small (50-100 employees) and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular tend to use smart applications and digital technologies less frequently than larger companies in Greece. In Crete, for instance, only 22 % of the surveyed companies with 5-50 employees use industrial and the latest digital applications, compared to 74 % of companies with over 100 employees.
Recent work by the World Bank provides some interesting insights. Countries can succeed with technology if they embrace the latest IT, AI technologies and digital opportunities. Magnificent prospects can be achieved for employees through knowledge and value creation. Magnificent prospects for businesses come through investments in digital infrastructure and broadband access.
Moreover, businesses also have to get antagonistic about adopting new technologies. For this, they need employees with high technological skills and access to infrastructures for new technology and digital products or services and a business environment that boosts investment and innovation. The real question here is: Does Crete have what it takes?
Crete’s position in education is relatively strong: 42 percent of 30 – to 38-year-olds have a higher education degree, compared to the country’s average of 45 percent and European Union average of 39 percent. Crete also has a tradition of research, science and pioneering technology; it has a relatively high share of Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Pedagogical graduates, for example. However, the country has not managed to provide enough and good paid jobs for them. For many years university graduates in Greece are opposing with one of the world’s worst labour markets.
The result is that Greece has been exporting its talent (brain drain), especially in tech, instead of providing them the opportunity to thrive at home. What’s worse, Greece is struggling to make sure that its future workers will equipped with the right skills in this very competitive and demanding environment.
Preparing the next generation of workers for success in the digital economy requires developing critical skills early and encouraging critical thinking and continuous learning. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, robotics, and machine learning will be everywhere in tomorrow’s workplaces.
In exploring the future of work, we expand the conversation to include the importance of work for social stability, the challenges associated and the opportunities to stabilize the economy of Greece.
Additionally, we expand our vision to understand the psycho-social factors, the governmental initiatives and implementation options affecting career development for building a robust future ready workforce.
In the business environment, the situation in the island of Crete is equally mixed. However, because of the lack of data our analysis is not effective enough to provide the insights investors may looking for. On the one hand, Greece (and Crete in particular) has managed to reach the EU leaders in broadband access in a very short time. On the other, only a small percentage of businesses are taking advantage of it for e-commerce and other tech-enabled operations.
Moreover, Europe’s economies are seeing a broadening productivity divide between large and small companies, as larger companies are quicker to adopt new technologies and automation applications. Greece has a remarkably and unusually large share of small businesses and micro-enterprises, so it jeopardizes falling even farther behind.
And much remains to be done in improving the general environment faced by Greek businesses. As the economy recovers and Greece considers stepping up its development co-operation, there is a large number of steps that the government might take including building a new vision for development co-operation and putting in place the structures and systems to achieve it.
Moreover, the tech sector’s innovative attitude is beginning to spread into other sectors in Crete such as agriculture, where technology and innovative and smart farming practices have jump-started agricultural productivity on some farms and even in the airspace industry. Crete is also a significant player in cutting-edge digital technology research and development with the Universities of Chania and Heraklion leading the way. (Greece is within the top seven countries in Horizon 2020-EU supported tech research and development program).
This is the first part-article in a three-part series that examines the technology, AI and digital application trends in the island of Crete, Greece.
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