There is a sense of anxiety among everyone these days. Change evokes anxiety, not the recent political changes, but changes in industry and technology. Occupations which we have expected to be available for our children, neighbours, and students are seemingly being gobbled up. This should not be a surprise though we have seen changes before. The industrial revolution and inventions that followed changed our lives and even though many were displaced life, in general, is better for everyone for it. We have engines that help us do work, we have presses and printers that make books available to everyone and more recently the internet which has de-commoditized knowledge and put it in the hands of any human being with access to the internet (and those numbers are growing daily).
Recent changes are more shocking though it seems to me that this is not because jobs are changing or are being replaced by people it is that we are not certain that the robots replacing us have any limitations. For example the auto industry emerged slowly and was labour intensive, people wielded tools and machines were dependent on their operators, global labour markets shifted who did the work but it still needed to be done. That is all changing, Auto manufacturers have created factories that need little to no labour resulting higher productivity, lower cost and errors, and of course job loss.
There is an expectation in schools and communities that we (Schools) are preparing children for the future, and we will try, however there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the future is. There is every indication that the spread of robotic labour substitutes will grow beyond, automated vehicles, lights out warehouses, Dark Stores, automated factories, outwards towards those things we cannot imagine being replaced, Medicine, Education, and other occupations requiring “Soft Skills”. AI if and when it truly emerges will and could replace many of our most cherished occupations, what then?
I believe that those who were prepared with 21st century skills such as those listed by the Global Citizenship Foundation, found below, will be the most likely to succeed.
- Using language, symbols, and text
- Managing self
- Relating to others
- Participating and contributing
We need to focus on developing the skills that computers and robots don’t and currently cannot have in order to find a meaningful place for the students in our charge. The days of having one occupation with one set of specific skills are likely gone or going soon, so we need to work on building the capacity for our learners to think, use language, manage themselves, relate to other and participate/contribute. This will be a tall order for some and will require us to be creative about how we manage our education system to promote these skills.
In the end I believe that humankind will be liberated from the drudgery of some of the necessary occupations that are currently held and this will open up a golden age of Thought, community and self actualization, but I’m an optimist.
Obviously there are bigger questions at play in this that come to mind,
Who will buy the stuff if noone makes it?
If factories are 250% more efficient without any workers what will we all do?
As corporate profits rise and labour markets shrink how will we participate in the market, and avoid further disparity in incomes?
If no-one has to work, and everything is done by robots, what is our purpose?
If you know the answers you tell me:)