Reading Time: 15 minutes

The purpose behind a reading comprehension passage in any bank exam is to test the ability of the student to grasp the idea conveyed by the passage in a limited time frame. Broadly speaking, there are 4 major types of questions that appear in RC passages:

(i) Specific detail questions – These are direct questions, the answers to which can be found explicitly stated in the passage. These are the easiest type of RC questions.

(ii) Vocab questions – These questions require the student to identify the contextual meaning of a word, phrase or idiom highlighted in the passage.

(iii) Inference questions – These questions require the student to use the information in the passage to arrive at conclusions which may not be specified in the passage directly. These are the toughest type of RC questions.

(iv) Structure-based questions – These questions ask the student to identify the tone, central idea, title or source of the passage.

We have prepared an in-depth analysis of the RC passage that appeared in the recently concluded NIACL AO Mains 2019. Breaking down the passage paragraph-wise for greater retention of the key concepts, we have approached the passage by giving an insight into the broader historical, social, political or economic context surrounding the events (if any) in the passage. Throwing light on any references cited, we aim to cover the ideas explored in each paragraph of the passage, explain difficult words/ phrases, identify the theme and central idea running through the fabric of the passage, throw light on the tone employed by the author and help the student to link each paragraph of the passage to the successive one, so as to bring out the point that the author is trying to make. We have provided model solutions to each of the RC questions that appeared in the exam. We conclude with a few similar readings that you can explore for further knowledge on the subject.

Source: The Economist (Feb 16th, 2019)

Title: An ageing world needs more resourceful robots

Ageing and robots are more closely related than you might think. Young countries with many children have few robots. Ageing nations have lots. The countries with the largest number of robots per industrial worker include South Korea, Singapore, Germany and Japan, which have some of the oldest workforces in the world. The connection does not merely reflect the fact that young countries tend (are likely to be) to be poor and cannot afford fancy machines, which they do not need anyway. It holds good within rich countries, too. Those with relatively few robots compared with the size of their workforce include Britain and France, both of which (by rich-country standards) are ageing slowly.

First para: The first paragraph of the passage generally introduces the idea that is to be explored in the passage, and provides a surrounding context to it. Here, the first para introduces the main idea – ageing and robots. It gives one crucial bit of info – countries with relatively young populations tend to have fewer robots than those with ageing populations. The para also explains how this is not necessarily due to young countries’ being poorer than ageing ones; it is true of rich countries with young populations as well.

Robots typically substitute (provide an alternative to) for labour and that is why many people fear that they will destroy jobs. Countries with plenty of young workers do not need labour substitutes. Wages there also tend to be low, making automation unprofitable. But ageing creates demand for automation in two ways. First, to prevent output falling as more people retire, machines are necessary to substitute for those who have left the workforce or to enable ageing workers to continue to do physical labour. Second, once people have retired they create markets for new kinds of automation, including robots that help with the medical and other requirements of caring for people who can no longer look after themselves.

Second para: The second paragraph of a passage generally throws light on the idea that is briefly introduced in the first paragraph, and explores it in greater detail. Here, the second para underlines a commonly held belief – robots will destroy jobs by substituting for labour. The para also explains how the demand for automation in countries with ageing population is more, due to: (i) the need for robots to perform tasks an ageing population cannot, and (ii) the need for automation to deliver medical and caregiving requirements that an ageing population typically needs.

The influence will grow. This year, there will be more people over 65 than under five for the first time in human history. By 2060, the number of Americans over 65 will double, to 98m, while in Japan, 40% of the population will be 65 or older. There will not be enough younger people to look after so many, unless robots help (and probably an influx (arrival or entry) of migrants is permitted (allowed), too. Shrinking (reducing in number) and ageing workforces matter as much. China is now the world’s largest robot maker, producing 137,900 industrial robots (typically, machines used in assembly lines) in 2017. Between 2015 and 2040, China’s working-age population (aged 20 to 64) will fall by a staggering 124m, or over 13%. China would by the end of the period need to install roughly 2 million more robots.

Third para: Continuing with the body of the passage, the third paragraph gives data to support the claims made in the previous para. It names certain countries (USA and Japan) where populations are estimated to age and where the need for care-administering robots will rise. The para also talks about China, the world’s largest robot maker, and cites data that supports the view that the manufacture of robots will need to be upped.

Such problems loom (appear) even in countries ageing more slowly than China—such as Britain. Between 2016 and 2025, the proportion of British workers who are under 30 will fall by four percentage points and that of over 50s will rise by ten points. That sounds manageable. But it masks (hides) big regional swings. In that period, London (which is relatively youthful) will see the share of its labour force under 30 fall by a quarter and the share over 50 rise even more. That will put enormous (considerable in intensity) pressure on some industries. A third of teachers and building workers in Britain are over 50, as are more than a third of health-care workers, farmers and lorry drivers. They are quitting in droves (in large numbers). A third of doctors planned to retire by 2020. Over the next few years, demography (the composition of a particular human population) will change the kinds of robots people need, as well as increase the number in use.

Fourth para: The fourth paragraph continues to present more data about another country – Britain. The para tells us that this country is ageing slowly and how it is estimated to see a large proportion of its young workforce decrease. With considerable pressure on several industries, the number of robots in use is expected to rise.

Automation is not the only way to deal with skills shortages (immigration and later retirement also help) but it is one of the most important. Companies may not be able to automate their way out of future skills shortages. Other responses (measures), such as raising wages, attracting more women into paid work and allowing more migration, will be just as important. Last, there may be room for the expansion of global supply chains, as work shifts from ageing China and other middle-income countries, to Africa and poorer places with more labour. Ageing demands (requires) a robotics revolution but it may be slow to arrive.

Last para: The final paragraph of a passage generally sums up the main idea and concludes with a final message to the reader. Here, the final para talks about how automation, albeit important, is not the only way to solve the problem of skill shortage. It suggests a few other ways – raising wages, bringing more women into the workforce and expanding supply chains to address this issue. The passage ends on the note that the answer to an ageing population needs a robotics revolution, but it will take time to arrive.

Question 1

Level – 0

The word ‘destroy’ as used in the passage, is closest in meaning to which of the following words?

a) alleviate

b) eradicate

c) elevate

d) instigate

e) infiltrate

Ans: B

Solution: B is the right answer. In the context of the passage, DESTROY has been used to highlight that many people fear that they would no longer have jobs as their jobs would be taken up by machines. DESTROY means to end the existence of something by damaging or attacking it. ERADICATE means to get rid of or destroy something completely. Thus, it is the synonym of DESTROY.

ALLEVIATE- If you ALLEVIATE pain, suffering, or an unpleasant condition, you make it less intense or severe.

ELEVATE-To ELEVATE something means to increase it in amount or intensity.

INSTIGATE- Someone who INSTIGATES an event causes it to happen.

INFILTRATE- If people INFILTRATE a place or organization, they enter it secretly in order to spy on it or influence it.

Question 2

Level – 1

Which of the following best describes the tone of the passage?

a) optimistic and forward-looking

b) cautious and analytical

c) witty and light-hearted

d) critical and doubtful

e) sarcastic and amused

Ans: B

Solution: B is the right answer.

The author is has tried to avoid making statements that sound definite or fixed. In the passage the author has not made any extreme statements regarding adoption of automation and the future. Refer to the lines: Automation is not the only way to deal with skills shortages (immigration and later retirement also help) but it is one of the most important.

Ageing demands a robotics revolution but it may be slow to arrive. 

In the passage the author has provided used several examples to explain why robots would be needed in the future and which countries would require it the most. He has established a link between ageing and the increase in demand of robots. Refer to the lines: The countries with the largest number of robots per industrial worker include South Korea, Singapore, Germany and Japan, which have some of the oldest workforces in the world. The connection does not merely reflect the fact that young countries tend to be poor and cannot afford fancy machines, which they do not need anyway.

A is incorrect. The author is not hopeful of confident about the future, he has merely examined the impact of automation.

C is incorrect. The author has not used humour in the passage, which is the characteristic of witty and light-hearted tone.

D is incorrect. The author has neither criticised nor cast doubt on the adoption of robots. He has merely pointed out that automation is inevitable.

E is incorrect. Sarcasm is an ironic remark that seems to be praising someone or something but is really disrespectful. The author has not used such statements and also not used humour.

Question 3

Level – 1

As per the passage, where can robots be deployed?

  1. Countries with shrinking and ageing workforce.
  2. Countries with young population.
  3. Countries with changing demography

a) Only 1

b) Only 2 and 3

c) Only 1 and 3

d) Only 2

e) All 1,2 and 3

Ans: C

Solution: C is the right answer.

1 is correct. Refer to the lines: First, to prevent output falling as more people retire, machines are necessary to substitute for those who have left the workforce or to enable ageing workers to continue to do physical labour. Thus, robots can be deployed in countries with ageing population.

3 is correct. Refer to the lines: Over the next few years, demography will change the kinds of robots people need, as well as increase the number in use. Thus, robots can be employed in countries with changing demography.

2 is incorrect. Refer to the lines: Countries with plenty of young workers do not need labour substitutes.

Thus, countries with young population does not need robots.

Question 4

Level – 2

Why has the author cited examples examples of South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Germany in the passage?

a) to illustrate the link between aging and robots

b) to show how certain countries have mastered robotic technology

c) to illustrate the challenges that some of the world’s biggest economies face while making use of robot technology

d) to demonstrate how robots and humans are competing in this day and age

e) to showcase how robots will take over jobs

Ans: A

Solution: A is the right answer. Refer to the lines: The countries with the largest number of robots per industrial worker include South Korea, Singapore, Germany and Japan, which have some of the oldest workforces in the world. The connection does not merely reflect the fact that young countries tend (are likely to be) to be poor and cannot afford fancy machines, which they do not need anyway.

The aim of the author is to highlight countries with ageing population employ greater number of robots and countries with a young population do not need these robots. Thus, there is a link between ageing and robots.

B is incorrect. The passage does not state that some countries have better robotic technology than others.

C is incorrect. The passage does not talk about the challenges with the adoption of robotic technology.

D is incorrect. The passage does not talk about a competition between humans and robots.

E is incorrect. The passage explicitly states that robots cannot replace all the jobs.

Question 5

Level – 1

Which of the following phrases can replace the word ‘reflect’ as used in the passage?

a) dispose of

b) bounce back

c) think about

d) point to

e) give a bad name to

Ans: D

Solution: D is the right answer. In the context of the passage, REFLECT has been used to show a link between ageing and adoption of robots. It means to represent something in an appropriate way. The phrase POINT TO means to make it seem likely that a particular fact is true or that a particular event will happen. It can be used to replace REFLECT.

DISPOSE OF-The phrase DISPOSE OF means to get rid of something.

BOUNCE BACK- If you BOUNCE BACK after a bad experience, you return very quickly to your previous level of success, enthusiasm, or activity.

THINK ABOUT- The phrase THINK ABOUT means to remember someone or something

GIVE A BAD NAME TO- The phrase GIVE A BAD MEANING TO means to defame of insult someone.

Question 6

Level – 1

Which of the following factors determine the implementation of automation?

  1. Falling productivity because of ageing population.
  2. Creation of new markets after retirement.
  3. Wage of workers in developing countries.

a) Only 1

b) Only 2 and 3

c) Only 1 and 2

d) Only 2

e) All 1,2 and 3

Ans: E

Solution: E is the right answer.

1 is correct. Refer to the lines: First, to prevent output falling as more people retire, machines are necessary to substitute for those who have left the workforce or to enable ageing workers to continue to do physical labour. Thus, falling productivity is a factor, which can influence the implementation of automation.

2 is correct. Refer to the lines: Second, once people have retired they create markets for new kinds of automation, including robots that help with the medical and other requirements of caring for people who can no longer look after themselves. Thus, new markets would be created after retirement, which would enable the implementation of automation.

3 is correct. Refer to the lines: The connection does not merely reflect the fact that young countries tend to be poor and cannot afford fancy machines, which they do not need anyway.

Countries with plenty of young workers do not need labour substitutes. Wages there also tend to be low, making automation unprofitable.

Question 7

Level – 1

As per the passage, which of the following statements represent the author’s view?

  1. Automation alone cannot help the companies to address the problem of future skill shortages.
  2. Robot revolution is necessary to tackle the problem of shrinking workforce in ageing countries.
  3. Countries with younger population can afford to not invest in robots.

a) Only 1

b) Only 2 and 3

c) Only 1 and 2

d) Only 2

e) All 1,2 and 3

Ans: E

Solution: E is the right answer.

1 is correct. Refer to the lines: Other responses (measures), such as raising wages, attracting more women into paid work and allowing more migration, will be just as important. Thus, the author agrees that other measures would also have to be adopted to tackle the problem of skill shortage.

2 is correct. Refer to the lines: First, to prevent output falling as more people retire, machines are necessary to substitute for those who have left the workforce or to enable ageing workers to continue to do physical labour. To prevent loss in productivity, countries with shrinking and ageing population need robots.

3 is correct. Refer to the lines: The connection does not merely reflect the fact that young countries tend to be poor and cannot afford fancy machines, which they do not need anyway. As per the author, countries with young population can manage without investing in robots.

Similar readings:

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/01/automation-hotel-strike-ai-jobs/579433/
  2. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/10/the-robot-paradox/505973/
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/so-where-are-all-those-robots/528666/

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