Where is Technology Taking Us?

For better or worse, technology is going to significantly transform our lives in the next decade. Pew Research Center conducted a survey, Digital Life in 2025: AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs, where they canvassed leading thinkers with open-ended questions about job displacement, education, and social policy due to new technology. Here are some of their insights.

The education system is not well positioned to transform itself to help shape graduates who can ‘race against the machines’.  – Bryan Alexander, technology consultant

One common argument made by the respondents is that our current education system is not adequately preparing students for our technology laden future. The usefulness of rote-memorization, a staple in early education, is questionable for a few reasons. First, just about all content ever created is accessible online at our fingertips whenever we need it. Therefore, rather than being taught to memorize information, students should be taught skills to find and synthesize information and higher order skills like storytelling, judging, decision-making, and problem solving. (I am hopeful that Common Core addresses some of these issues in current and future iterations of the standards.) Second, there will be devices to augment our ability to remember things – something that acts like a hard drive. Google glasses is an example of a peripheral technology device meant to boost our perceptions in everyday life. Let’s teach students to harness new technologies, not memorizing things.

Creating, coding, designing, engineering, and analyzing skills will be highly coveted in future careers. Our education system should introduce STEM to students at an earlier stage, and provide the necessary resources for children who want to pursue a related career. For example, provide an introductory coding and engineering class before high school and then classes and programs throughout high school.

Most of the respondents agree there will be displacement of workers, but have varying opinions on how it effects the overall job market. Forty-eight of the experts argue displacement will have serious negative consequences. It will polarize the upper and lower classes by hollowing out the middle class. There will be underemployment, which is something we currently experience with early career professionals. But they also predict a new, scarier phenomenon: unemployable workers – professionals who cannot build the skills needed to become employed. Contrarily, the other fifty-two percent of the experts argue enough new jobs will be created to compensate for the lost jobs.

Services that are currently very expensive are being targeted for automation. In the medical field, machines are already starting to replace radiologists and anesthesiologist. Hopefully, these advancements help lower healthcare costs. One of the respondents is a lawyer who says computers are taking over supporting roles in the legal profession (researchers, document processors, etc.).

Everything that can be automated will be automated. – Robert Cannon, law and internet policy expert

Machines and automation may boost productivity enough so we have shorter workdays.

The work week has fallen from 70 hours a week to about 37 hours now, and I expect that it will continue to fall – Hal Varian, chief economist for Google

Moreover, they will reduce the time we spend doing mundane, routine chores: laundry, grocery shopping, driving, and house cleaning. This would allow for us to spend time being more creative and productive (why many of the big IT companies provide these perks to their workers).

Robots will assist humans in tasks thus allowing humans to use their intelligence in new ways, freeing us up from the menial tasks – Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker

Being a technologist, I am optimistic we can find ways to embrace AI and robotics. We need to find ways to share productivity gains achieved from automation with the lower and middle classes. I think not having universal access to a quality education and new technologies would be the biggest contributors to the bifurcation of the classes, so I have two remedies. Provide a free K-12 and higher education. With breakthroughs in online learning, this is possible because there are no real marginal cost in adding students. I am not suggesting revolutionizing the whole higher education system, but rather making sure there is an ‘education safety net’ for those who need it. Make sure some of the new technology gets in the hands of the general public. (Currently some schools in underprivileged areas loan tablets and laptops to their students, so they have access to the Internet and the latest apps. This is a good start.)  Also build an infrastructure that delivers high-speed Internet to everyone. Finally, we should continually expand the reach of innately ‘human jobs’ – those that require soft skills, empathy, judgment, and decision-making.

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