"It is what it is,” as I tell my kids when they argue about something they don't like but will happen anyway. Automation is here to stay. Our economic development institutions, businesses, and think tanks remind us that fewer workers will be employed on factory floors. Furthermore, there's a factoid that resonated with me: a McKinsey study shows that 51% of the jobs in our economy, including white-collar jobs, could be automated with existing technologies. Even more, there's some level of certainty that 38% of the jobs WILL be automated by 2030.
I am, like you, concerned about the future, but I'm also hopeful and excited about the possibilities that will emerge because of this wave of automation. The 4th Industrial Revolution will impact the way we live (I'm in my fifties, so it will affect me and my children's way of life).
It wasn't long ago that Bill Gates discussed his rationale that robots should pay taxes since replacing jobs. One could argue that they don't get paid, and the productivity associated with having one robot doing the job that five employees do today boosts business and economic growth. However, inevitably, we will have fewer "people" contributing to our taxes when we see corporate taxes going down, and my argument goes even further: what happens to individual contributions to our communities, as volunteers or as donors? How will we replace employee giving if our "human workforce" is drastically and suddenly reduced?
I posit that we should start thinking about the civic duties of an automated society and how "giving back" needs to continue being a priority to build strong and resilient communities. Humans will have fewer jobs to choose from (our poor and low-income populations could significantly and suddenly increase). In contrast, charities will have fewer individual donors and fewer publicly funded supports to care for the most vulnerable. More productivity, less giving back, and more need.
I'm not sure I would "tax" automation. Still, we certainly should expect that companies play a much more significant and proactive role in being part of the solution for vulnerable communities. "Building communities" should become a top strategic cause for businesses. If we don't have humans to volunteer or give, companies will have to help find ways to take care of the most vulnerable members of our community.
Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. While automating your workforce, remember the role "human employees" used to play in your community with their
My dad was a great classical guitar player. The best one I had heard, apart from the maestros on TV or with music records. Honestly, he was that good. I wanted to play guitar like him, but his mastery became my biggest obstacle. Every time I learned a new "trick" or chord, he would do it so much better. At the time, I couldn't take it. I dropped my aspirations of learning classical guitar, bought a couple of distortion pedals and an electric guitar, and decided to make more noise than he could ever imagine. Even with that move, my father would play it better than me! Oh well. I wish he could be alive to teach me now, but that's what you get when you are an obstinate teenager.
It is, however, clear now that I will learn guitar with Augmented and Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing. I will put my immersion technology kit on my actual guitar, and a pair of virtual hands will guide my hands to play music on my guitar—no VR guitar, my guitar with my hands, using a recommended system. Quantum computing will create 100% realistic scenarios at a computing speed that we have never experienced.
Still, ten years to come, quantum computing is being tested as we speak. I had a conversation with a well-known tech giant research leader this week, and they are ten years from having a truly promising quantum computer. There are no more binary logic, no more 0's and 1's, but ultra-high-speed multiple states. Many things will still have to be ironed out with this technology (mainly inputs and outputs), but indeed the potential is unbelievable, definitely killing Moore's law forever. They have already made progress to the point where they can translate the entire Wikipedia content in any language in milliseconds. It is that fast, and anything that's considered secure electronically with super difficult encryption will be cracked open in seconds, needing to reinvent the entire industry of cyber security.
The combination of AI, VR, AR, and QC will change everything we know. A manufacturing plant or car repair shop operator will not have to "learn" anything and will "do" on the fly, guided by a machine that projects the exact movements. Will humans are learning then? It will be an imitation game if human hands are needed at all. Technologists anticipate that doctors, teachers, police, or even judges will drastically reduce their current AI and robotic assistants workload in less than 20 years. To the point of entirely replacing professions reserved for "humans" because they require judgment. A fundamental shift of who does and who is behind the doers. Who will need to learn?
This leads me to a final point: we are going through a time where nano and micro education credentials, with a lot shorter time to market, are displacing college degrees as an alternative (faster, cheaper, better) in specific fields, but the question is for how long. With the scenario of fully expansive AI, VR, AR, and QC, most areas will replace low, middle, and even high-level skills in an increasingly automated society. What will humans do? What type of education will be necessary for humans then? It sounds like we will move to a hyper-educated hybrid elite (tech + liberal education together) where higher degrees will be the only ones needed since all profession-specific ones won't be necessary. There is no need to learn skills; most occupations will be described as an "AI/AR/VR guided experience," if anything. The only skill we will need is those who will maintain the current technology and those who will engineer the next generation of technology, for whom advanced degrees will be necessary. Most machines will self-repair in the next 20 years.
I know most of us don't want to think about the future that way, but the truth (the one that four or 6-year term politicians don't want to tell you) is that humans won't have jobs in the front lines of "doing,” but on the back lines of "thinking.” Imagine that! Humans, thinking again! Two or three generations down the road, we will have a fully post-human race, with a lot fewer "jobs" and a lot more need to re-engineer our ways to live better and begin to reduce wicked societal problems. Let's see what post-humans come up with, but education, healthcare, transportation, farming, and any other sector will be reinvented in ways we can hardly envision now. And if you don't believe me, count the number of people who remember phone numbers anymore or the number of friends who have already driven a commercial self-driven car. We are already technology-enhanced, and this is just the beginning. Illnesses will be cured; even death could be eliminated if treated as a disease. This is not fatalistic or dystopian; this is happening as we speak.
Maximize your human potential by getting ahead of the curve, preparing yourself, your leaders, and future generations for a hybrid "tech/humanistic" world so that they can make the right choices for themselves and the ones to come.
Dear Mr/s #nextpresident:
I write you with the hope that you will set the conditions for a more competitive, safe, and prosperous America. I have not heard you say much about what you would do for education and talent in this country, but we certainly know a few things:
- Other nations are surpassing us both in K-12 and Higher Education in terms of numbers of people attaining education levels beyond high school. Our ability to be productive and sustain economic growth is reduced every day, as other nations can create educational opportunities that match what markets and society need. In a recent report, we could see how China is investing heavily in its higher education system to produce 22C talent. I know we are in "saving mode,” but "saving on education" is the worst possible choice for any global leader.
- Our national security depends on our ability to outsmart our opponents, not outnumber them or try out-terror terrorists with an even more violent response. For that, we need to develop and deploy talent, so we are ready to engage. This is urgent, Mr/s #newpresident!
- We are witnessing with distress how you and other candidates only talk about repealing things you dislike but never discuss what you will do to get us back on track. Negating things, closing departments, etc., is all good and dandy, but it needs to be backed up by facts and viable solutions. Can you be specific about what America can do to develop talent for the 4th Industrial Revolution? Do you even know what that is? Read this WEF report discussed at the last Davos summit. It's going to be worth your time, I promise.
We are also witnessing with distress how States are reducing funding to higher education when markets are seeking individuals with higher levels of education. Students and their families are contributing with absurdly high amounts from their own pockets to compensate for the lack of public funding; I would love to hear how you intend to partner with States to address this issue. We need all systems: public, private, nonprofit, and for-profit (some are outstanding players; of course, the bad apples must go away!). The public system provides education to millions of Americans, don't disenfranchise them! This is not just social justice; this is the difference between having more productive and educated Americans and having less. And we know what happens to people without education, as they look for other avenues to make money (and rest assured, any of us, hard pressured, would find "other" ways to sustain our families). We need an advanced, modern, educated, and productive society, not the other way around.
- We have a "no-system" system. Students who take vocational training can't get their learning recognized if they want to continue their education and get higher in their career ladder. Education after high school should be interoperable at the state level and across states. Your job is not to set up systems, but to take down barriers to make interstate and intra-state agreements possible among education providers and employers, so students can learn what matters, where it matters, and be counted and portable, so they can take their credentialed learning with them, and keep adding to it as they move to their next opportunity.
- In an interoperable post-secondary learning system, you should incentivize (not DO or MANAGE, that's different; let States take care of that) the creation of digital learning passports, so students can get the skills, certifications, and degrees properly "stamped" in real-time, by verified providers (including higher education institutions, but also other relevant providers that are emerging), and open up the flow of talent in America. It's too costly for employers to find and hire people, but technology can reduce friction and enable social and geographic mobility. We have the best technology and the best entrepreneurs. Please advocate for and incentivize the creation of an interoperable post-secondary learning ecosystem with portable learning passports where both learning and demonstration of knowledge can work to the benefit of the student and worker (these are not all "kids" anymore, Mr/s #nextpresident!), not the institution or the employer. Put beneficiaries (students, job seekers) at the center, not institutions, government, or business.
- Last but not least, take education and talent seriously. Read books, inform yourself. Here's one you could read for some ideas on how to deal with talent issues in the country. If you make education a 2nd tier issue, America will not have enough people to run a 22nd Century country. And with all due respect to other nations, many of which I love, only a big goal can be indeed achieved in America. The best America can invest in is a safe, educated, and ready talent pool, so companies investing in cyber-physical solutions (think of digital + material products, like intelligent windows or smart cars) want to do it here. Those 4th industrial revolution companies need software and hardware to operate, which means all types of jobs.
Mr/s #nexpresident: make "ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution" the core issue of your tenure. And good luck!
Sony just announced an educational infrastructure play using blockchain technology that could fuel the emergence of mobile learning records. They are not the first: Pearson, Parchment, Mozilla Foundation, Credly, and many others; both businesses and nonprofits have been advocating for some form of portable digital record to carry your validated learning as currency. In an interconnected world where physical and cyber security is becoming a non-negotiable priority, where companies and governments fight about consumer privacy rights, and governments struggle with flows of immigrants and refugees with or without proper documentation, the not-so-distant future will create opportunities to provide secure digital mobility documents to every person.
In education, in particular, open digital learning passports will be a reality soon. They will continue to pressure educational systems, institutions, and policymakers to securely release student records to become a valid form of mobility pass. About six years ago, I anticipated that people should be given a digital birth certificate, a travel passport, and a learning passport when they are born, granted by the country and state of birth and recognized internationally, as part of the mobility documents of any citizen. I even commissioned an exciting project with GOOD Corps about digital learning passports a few years back. Individuals should have options to choose any digital custodian they want for their digital records (including their servers and cloud-based custodian services). They should have the right to keep their records in their custody and the digital custodian of their choice. If schools and colleges want to stamp verified learning progress, they must do it on the learner’s passport. They could be permitted to keep a copy by the learner, but they should not own that record. The student should. These digital learning passports (and other mobility documents) will inherently (by design) be safe to travel digitally and be stamped after verification of ownership or accomplishment. I can imagine ultra-secure technologies being developed; personal digital records can allow me to bring verified proof of what I own, what I know and can do, etc. Whether it's voluntary or forced mobility, individuals will be able to "bring" (access) their mobility records. We don't need a single format; a global federated approach is perfectly OK. As someone that has lived and worked internationally, I would have enjoyed the benefits of mobility records in digital format every time I have moved from country to country, state to state, company to company...
Of course, in all cases, whether it's learning or other personal assets, the verification/validation process is critical. Educators are developing frameworks so verification of knowledge can occur across the board without creating education standards. Think about the seven notes in music. That's the framework. You tune your instrument and play any combination of letters you want. However, someone must validate that you know how to play and at what level and be authorized in the verification network to "stamp"/validate that you know and can do what you claim. The same could happen with other assets you may own. I can think in the future a group of occupations known as "digital notaries,” some official third-party validators, and "stampers" of digital verification in the different fields. Even when the devil is in the details and may still take a while, we should give individuals the right and duty to own and custody their digital records (learning, health, money, property..).
Our kids, or maybe our grandkids, will surely be part of a different digitally-enabled mobile society. And yet, no matter how far technology goes, whether it's implanted as a chip in your body and accessible anywhere through ultra-secure biometrics, individuals will still have to prove that they have learned and can actually play and even create beautiful music, for example.
Be ready for digitally-enabled mobility
Susana Duarte de Suarez