Watching BBC’s Robert Peston’s brilliant documentary “How the West Went Bust”, it strikes me as the first documentary which actually densely connects the financial crisis of 2008, the current European debt crisis and the meteoric rise of emerging markets while portraying the utter lack of production as the symptom of a cultural problem: the West’s consumerism and living in on credit vs the East’s focus on production and saving up money. The gist of it is that in the nineties and noughties, North America and Europe have been living on a wealth level that has never been realistic and was always supported by debt and in the end is unsustainable. In the coming years, Peston argues Europe may see its wealth level drop by as much as 30%.
I am actually even more pessimistic than Peston’s documentary since it doesn’t expose one great issue: the automation of labor by computers and robots in the coming decade.
Many jobs are simply ripe to be automated when artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technology’s abilities increases in the coming years.
Future software will be able to replace bus, train and subway drivers. The majority of the transportation industry will be left jobless. Self-moving cleaners will be able to clean train stations and most developed nations and metropolitan areas have already switched to digital charge cards, removing the need for transport workers to check for tickets. Future software will introduce self-driving cars (which Google is actually ready to launch already as it waits for the law to catch up), which will make taxi drivers jobless.
Future software has already replaced a large part of retail stores. With many of us buying anything except for clothes and food online. Clothing faces the challenge of fitting them online. However, future software will also make it able to scan your body’s entire dimensions and fit clothes virtually. And online stores are already increasing their focus on grocery deliveries with Amazon introducing same-day delivery.
Future software will be able to replace pharmacists, as computers will be able to receive a prescription digitally, analyze patient data to see if it does not create a negative effect with other medication and then ship it to people’s homes.
And I am not only talking about low-skilled labor, I am even talking about the higher skilled jobs that require college and university degrees
Future software will be able to replace HR recruitment, finding the right candidate for a job by using semantic analysis of resumes and connecting online data about the person to see if it can be a match. There will still be a human necessary to put the data in and get the data out but that person will not be an business or psychology graduate, it will be someone highly skilled in programming and able to modify or write applications to fit his/her need.
I could go on forever, but you get the point.
So what’s left?
Not much I think.
The classic argument is that we are simply in a technological revolution which shakes things up. Like the industrial revolution did. What happens is that many jobs get lost but many new jobs get added. And yes, many jobs will in fact be added., but these jobs will be in developing software and maintaining hardware.
Now, the industrial revolution created factory jobs to do the tasks that the mechanical machines could not do such as packaging and sorting goods.
The technological revolution’s added jobs will essentially consist of jobs that automate tasks. Every tasks of which it is cheaper to develop software/hardware for to be automated will be automated. As Marc Andreessen said “software is eating the world”.
Now this development by far does not just apply to Europe, but to most of the world. But in the case of Europe I am much more pessimistic about its future since we seem to be unable to educate our people with the jobs that are needed. We are graduating masses of people with degrees like business administration (like myself), social sciences, liberal arts when we could be teaching our children in elementary school basic programming as a part of the curriculum to create a strong foundation to develop further until they graduate from university as well as integrate robotics, AI, engineering and physics into the curriculum from an early age. The quality of the degrees of the huge amount of Chinese engineering students is questionable, but at least there is more focus on that area there. What does it say that most high educated starter jobs are now turned into ‘traineeships’ to re-educate a (for example, social sciences) candidate for years before they can actually start working. Shouldn’t we save that time and teach them what they need to know earlier?
The classic argument against that is that university should be about learning, for the sheer goal of learning. It shouldn’t be a job factory. And I agree but it’s not sustainable anymore financially to do that. It’s a luxury from a different time. It was amazing to have it when we were doing fine, but we’re not doing fine anymore.
So there’s two choices. Keep education like it is, and accept a significant decrease in wealth and suffer huge unemployment. Or transform education to focus on technology and teach every kid to code and make stuff, in the hope that you’ll then be able compete and have your labor force write the code or build the robots that will replace the the world’s jobs. And, choose fast.