The threat to employment jobs from the rise of Information Technology
In a recent debate at Davos 2014, Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, has warned the jobs problem will be "the defining one" for the next two-three decades. He said given the constant development of new technology, more and more middle class workers would lose their jobs.
This is a striking and challenging assertion that really hits home to any parent or educationalist who are seeking to help support and nurture the next generation of workers.
The second Industrial Revolution
Eric’s Schmidt sees this an nothing short of a second industrial revolution where the way work is conducted and gets done will be radically different as many human tasks are automated by algorithms and computer services.
I initially agree with this assessment, I’ve been in the IT industry all my working life and over the past 30 years have seen the growth of islands of computing systems that used to fill large air conditioned rooms running basic operations and finance administration and planning tasks. Then the PC and the internet broke down these walls into an extended interconnected world that in a short space of ten years then underwent a second shift as mobile devices, tablets fuelled by massive social networks and multi-media digital services exploded the volume and collective information about people, products, places and workspaces on a planetary scale.
I agree that these new physical and virtual connections are creating new forms of crowd Innovation and interconnect supply chains that work across many country borders and
Past the threshold of computing speed that changes Job skills
Information technology has not just created the information era that represents masses of connections and exabytes of information but also by passing a threshold in the level of computing power on demand in the palm of your hand. This empowers many task that previously required educated learning and skills to be able to navigate, interpret and make complex decisions. Tasks in 2014 that are still difficult may not be such and obstacle in 30 years time in 2034.
Computing tasks in 2014 Computing tasks in 2034 (30 years’ time)
Optical face recognition Emotional Interpretation
Voice translation Natural language subject expert advice
Location awareness Location sensing and context advise – protect , promote and coordinate
unconnected or connected participants
Transport simulation Real time Integrated Transport systems
Basic robotic movement Natural Physical movement in situ of other objects and huma
Biological wellbeing Integrated body implants/augments and health services
3D Printing (Digital to physical object - basic) 3D assembly and fabrication manipulation of complex objects
These examples are just the tip of the innovation curve that may be possible sooner or later in the oncoming drive for move advanced and effective IT. But how does this also mean that the jobs of brown collar and white collar worker, the middle classes maybe under threat ?
Blinded by the novelty
I think in answering this the question is how connected and pervasive these systems will become into our everyday lives and working environments. This is difficult to visualize currently as I think we are possible blinded by the novelty of today’s IT functionality as something that runs on a mobile phone or as a search function on a webpage. This is just the initial façade of services that have enabled a reduction in simpler tasks in the supply of ordering products and services or delivering on-demand multi-media entertainment, books and digital content. This is just the customer side of the IT revolution, it’s the social networking gimmickry and the behavioral science of preferences and social activity, but this is only the start. We have already seen a shift in jobs directly in some industries, for example:
Banking services becoming automated and self-service removing the need for service desk and customer liaison staff
Retail high street smart tagging products, price matching and “click and collect” services removing the need for jobs in planning and distribution
Residents selling rental of their spare rooms or car capacity but can impact
Product Stock tracking and order self –service removing the need for administration staff jobs.
We are seeing shift in economies of scale of knowledge in areas such as searching, tracking, buying and selling that are shifting from traditional physical jobs to on-line virtual work automated by machine algorithm and responses. Yet economics describe the digital economic as still only have a small effect and a marginal impact on total Gross Domestic Product GDP. While cloud computing and other digital media social platforms have enabled hyper connectivity we have not seen the impact on large numbers of jobs, yet.
What happens when IT things get embedded ?
But I think where it gets potentially more serious and the main point raised by Eric Schmidt in Davos 2014 is when the IT content and services are connected into everyday objects like cars, rooms, products and transport. This is where not just jobs relating to artifacts and information are affected but the very social and business environments that many jobs exist within.
Its not an exaggeration that when these connected workspaces become automated with intelligence as I suggest in the world of 2034 we are then into a changing whole groups of jobs and activities into automated services.
I see this happening in six areas:
Object augmentation removing jobs for advisory and selection of products and services.
Room and Facility augmentation become automated removing jobs to manage buildings and support services.
Personal and business community become fully automated marketplaces and working environments removing the need for travel or marketing management
Travel – in-transit automation removing jobs for traffic management and customer management and service maintenance support
Contextual relationship augmentation removing jobs in location advisory and location management coordination and project management
Knowledge augmentation removing jobs in expert knowledge in subjects
Connecting these together in a nested ecosystem of automation has the potential to game change the way whole job markets, countries and industries buy, sell and trade business. In short and shift in the job market and a change in the way economic wealth creation is generated between humans and Machines.
With every new Technology innovation and new level of work emerges
But is this all doom and gloom? We have seen in the earlier industrial eras of steam, electric, telegraph, globalized media that with every new level of automation , new jobs are created on top of these that exploit those technologies. Perhaps this time round the issue is also the volume of human workers available in the job market combined with this intelligent workspace environment shift will mean a new work ethic and how human worth and value will be defined. Society may need to consider new economic rebalancing of people able to create wealth and thought who are less able and become part of a new kind of employment and enrichment class.
My own belief is that the call for a debate and drive for more innovation by Eric Schmidt now is a timely reminder that all these things will also potential create new levels of human value and better life styles for people. Making this real will mean more appropriate investment and development in advanced technologies that can host and create platforms for these capabilities. I don’t see this will be just the big mega cloud platforms such as Google and Amazon who will be the new era of industrial platforms but also a new era of job diversity that sit on top and exploit these platforms. The question is can society make this change for everyone?