From a fascinating overview of a future of work symposium held at Cornell as reported by PBS:
Hod Lipson of Cornell University:
Machines are better at learning than humans in many different areas. So now the question is, what will they learn and what’s the end game?
If you’re talking 100 years, there’s no doubt in my mind that all jobs will be gone, including creative ones. And 100 years is not far in the future – some of our children will be alive in 100 years.
In a way, we cannot help ourselves. We try to automate every difficult task that we see. It is rooted in the fact that the mantra of engineering has always been to try to alleviate drudgery and increase productivity – that was the good thing to do. That’s what we still train our students to do.
But what I’m hearing here is that maybe we should redirect our efforts, and try to solve a new kind of problem. I’m not sure what that problem is. But I’m sure that if you can define what the problem is that we need to solve, then we can start thinking about how to solve it, using the same engineering tools.
Steven Berkenfeld of Barclays:
When I speak to small companies, emerging companies, the general sense I get is that they will do anything possible not to hire a full-time, permanent employee. There are a lot of real disincentives to hiring people when you can outsource it, and so hiring someone is a big commitment. It comes with a lot of responsibilities and costs for the person doing the hiring throughout the whole tenure of that new employee, and it’s something that employers would rather avoid if at all possible.
We are talking here about wage gaps and we’re sort of talking about poverty, which folks don’t like talking about. A friend of mine, a teacher in New Orleans, recently said to me, ‘I have students in the ninth grade, and I can provide them all of the resources that I have, and stay after class and suggest they read certain books. But I cannot do much for the fact that they can’t see and they don’t have access to eyeglasses, or both of their parents are in jail, they live in the foster care system or they have asthma that has never been treated.’
How can the educational system make up for those challenges that students face before they even enter the world of work with all its rapid technological change?
The whole story is fascinating (as are many of the comments.) But the scariest part for me is that I don’t get the sense school leaders and policy makers have any sense of the changes that are underfoot, regardless of how clearly we understand them. We’re preparing kids for a future of work that, for most at least, simply no longer exists. And for millions of kids who live in poverty, the odds of working their way up to success are growing slimmer by the day.