We are on the cusp of major changes in education, technology and industry owing to forces that we are powerless to overcome. It’s natural to fear change on a large scale. But, we shouldn’t be afraid. We should embrace the change.
I’m talking about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on society and the workplace. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has labeled the coming paradigm Industry 4.0. In their studies, nine technologies from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) to Big Data are integrated to change not just the factory floor but also how businesses will change their product and service offerings.
Our challenge is to understand how new technology will change the workplace and how we should educate our children (See “Is the Education WeWant the Education We Need?” and “Don’t Send Your Kids to College”). Is it a little scary? Yes, it is. Some fear that not only will robots take our jobs but also they might take over society.
Big thinkers from Alan Turing to Elon Musk have contemplated technological singularity for decades. What’s that? Here’s a simple definition from Wikipedia:
“The technological singularity is a hypothetical event in which artificial general intelligence (constituting, for example, intelligent computers, computer networks, or robots) would be capable of recursive self-improvement (progressively redesigning itself), or of autonomously building ever smarter and more powerful machines than itself…”
Many think machines will never outsmart humans. After all, how can a machine know more than its human programmers? Rather than debate how we might determine if we have reached singularity, Turing designed a test to take the guesswork out of the evaluation.
The Star Trek series showed us how it might happen as the impatient-with-human-failings Mr. Spock was replaced in the Next Generation by Data, an android with access to all the information in the universe and the irrefutable logic to apply it in any situation.
The real-life manifestations of this Sci-Fi are everywhere. But not in robot form. Fitbit collects data and coaches us to be healthier. Netflix collects our movie preferences and recommends films for us to watch. Next we will see self-driving cars that use sensors and software to get us to work more safely than we can on our own.
How will Industry 4.0 change businesses and, by extension, jobs? Futurists contemplate that product offerings will evolve into services. Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) describes how it would look. GeneralMotors recently invested $500M in Lyft, a ride sharing company. Why? Well, instead of buying a car in the future, you might buy transportation services.
Does that seem far-fetched? Well, when ride-sharing services evolve into fleets of on demand self-driving vehicles to take where you want to go when you want to go there, you won’t much care if you own a car. And, further you won’t care if the self-driving car that picks you up is a Chevy, Ford or Toyota.
Don’t believe me? What kind of plane transported you on your last business trip or vacation? You might remember the airline and whether you had a good experience with their service. But, it’s unlikely that you remember whether Boeing or Airbus made the plane. Nor, do you care!
So, what happens to your job in this new world? BCG concludes that government and industry should work together to “[a]dapt school curricula, training, and university programs and strengthen entrepreneurial approaches to increase the IT-related skills and innovation abilities of the workforce.” (I speculated about this need in “Our Future:Educated People or Just Educated Robots?”)
In other words, we need to change the way we educate our children. Workers of the future will be required to understand how to interpret data as well as turn a wrench. Low cost labor will no longer be a global competitive advantage. The spoils will go to those who those who can provide a high-skilled workforce.
Politicians on the left and right seek to make us afraid of the foundational changes necessary to support this paradigm shift (free trade agreements, common core, charter schools, immigration, automation of the factory floor). After all, if you want to get elected, tell people what to be afraid of and who to blame.
But, it’s fair to say that technology has consistently improved our lives for centuries – from steam engines to electrification to car and air travel to modern electronics. Rather than raising the specter of job losses from automation and free trade agreements, our political and thought leaders should be creating a vision of a future of better schools, better jobs and better lifestyles.
WHO WILL LEAD?