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Asia-Pacific Embraces AI, While Other Countries Remain Wary

Source: Pew Research Center

More than half of the 20 countries surveyed believe that artificial intelligence brings value to their society, compared to 33%, which believe the technology creates a negative impact. This survey, by Pew Research Center, finds that less than half of the countries surveyed saw this technology having a positive impact on society in terms of job automation.

Views of AI were especially positive in the Asia-Pacific region, with 72% of the public in Singapore and 69% in South Korea seeing it as a good thing for their countries. Not surprisingly so, as many countries in this region have dominated the field of AI. For example, South Korea has the highest robots-to-human workers ratio in the nation, followed by Singapore. Singapore has also expressed a goal of becoming the world’s first “smart nation.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of AI technologies. Half of global businesses have increased the speed of incorporating automating tasks in their workday, while many executives see this technology as a key lever for success in 2021.

Global Plastic Waste Is a Major Risk for Everyone

Source: University of Leeds

Every year, nearly 30 million tons of plastic are discarded on land, 50 million tons are burned in the air and 11 million tons are dumped into the ocean, according to a computer model from the University of Leeds, U.K

Plastic waste predominantly comes from high-income countries; however, middle- to low-income countries have less access to waste collection services, thereby producing more poor waste management. Improving waste collection services is the most important factor in reducing plastic pollution, which will require political, societal and corporate support.

Businesses also need to cut back on plastic for global improvements to be made. The packaging industry accounts for the highest use — and waste — of plastic, at 146 million tons in 2015. There are multiple ways that businesses can eliminate waste, such as substituting plastic with compostable materials, and selling products and packaging that are recyclable.

Demand for Housing Soared in 2020, Despite the Pandemic

Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Global housing prices rose by about 71% in 2020, despite COVID-based economic recessions. Of the 50 countries analyzed by the International Monetary Fund, the Philippines experienced the highest increase in housing prices (20% year-over-year), followed by Portugal and Latvia.

The housing market was exposed to many changes this year with record-low mortgage rates and a new motive for people to relocate. As COVID-19 pushed millions into lockdown, people started to re-evaluate the spaces they had been living in, especially during the first six months of the pandemic. This trend may continue as businesses consider extending remote work arrangements for the upcoming months and into the future. 

During the last global recession — nearly a decade ago — house prices decreased by an average of 10%. However, experts are optimistic about the current state of the housing market and predicting that this upward trend of prices will continue in 2021.

Global Support for Gender Equality Rises, But Challenges Remain

Source: Pew Research Center

Support for gender equality increased in many large nations in 2020, with a median of 94% of those in surveyed countries agreeing that gender equality is important to have where they live. There is also a large sense of worldwide optimism for the future of gender equality, with a median of 75% of those in surveyed countries holding this view, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2020.

However, Pew’s research also found that women are less optimistic than men are about the future of gender equality. Out of the 34 countries surveyed, a majority of the public believe that men have a better chance at getting higher paying jobs than women do, as well as a more opportunities to serve in a leadership role in their communities. A median of 46% of those surveyed across the countries also believe that men have “a better life” in their countries than women.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a negative impact on efforts to achieve gender equality — especially in the workplace. As 2021 approaches, many question what long-term effects the pandemic will have on women’s careers as they face setbacks in their incomes and career progression due to childcare arrangements.

COVID-19 Makes Amazon the World’s 5th-Largest Employer

Source: World Economic Forum

Amazon increased its workforce to 1.2 million this year, despite the global economic slowdown from COVID-19. The U.S. e-commerce company hired about 1,200 staff per day, adding 427,300 employees by October 2020. Amazon is listed as the world’s fifth-largest employer — rising, in the past two years, from being the 10th largest. 

Between April and June 2020, Amazon sold 57% more items than it did in 2019, and sales during the holiday season are expected to grow by 30% over last year’s sales. Amazon isn’t the only company profiting from a growth in e-commerce sales during the pandemic — Walmart, the world’s largest employer, and Target also saw online sales grow

The pandemic has accelerated the shift from physical retail outlets to e-commerce: U.S. e-commerce sales are up 32.4% year-over-year. Experts indicate this trend is the start of a new business journey. As the OECD notes, businesses need to adapt to these changes to meet the needs of their consumers and secure economic survival post-COVID.

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