In the early 1950s, US President Eisenhower was shown the first Univac super computer, a monstrosity that took up an entire, large room of space, he was invited to ask Univac a question.
He asked the question, 'is there a god'? After some time, the computer with lights flashing and tape reels spinning came back with an answer. 'There is now!'.
Of course the whole thing was scripted by some clever marketing person who seized the opportunity to position the Univac machine firmly in the minds of Americans. God is here with us and her name is Univac.
Fast-forward almost 70 years and we all know how rapid the development of digital technology has been and how much it's changed our world.
We're now being impacted by what has been dubbed the 4th Industrial Revolution or 4IR.
Wikipedia says: The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems. It is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), additive manufacturing/3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.
There's a great deal we don't understand about the impact that 4IR will have on people and while it's easy to be pessimistic, we at the very least have to think very deeply about its impact.
Reading recent headlines I wonder how business leaders could confidently predict there's nothing to fear, like this headline from the Business Council of Australia:
and the thrust of the story was:
Australians are being urged to embrace the robots and other new technologies that will replace “routine” workers in the decade ahead research that suggests the new wave of automation could add $250 billion to the economy.
“When I hear people saying they want to slow down this rate of change, erect barriers to transition, and bring back protectionism, I shake my head,” Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott says.
“This is ubiquitous. It’s unstoppable. It’s borderless. It’s consumer driven. It’s skills-focused. If done well, it will be a force for good.”
Ms Westacott says the findings show the need to pay “particular attention” to low-skilled men aged over 55-years, especially those in construction and manufacturing, as well as workers in financial services and those with low skills in regional areas.
I don't agree with much of Ms Westacott's press release, however I do agree, "It’s skills-focused."
Funny that buried in a load of pollyanna nonsense is the core issue for all advanced nations: SKILLS. Actually it's a core issue for every nation.
Most people now agree that high school and college education doesn't prepare young people for the world of work. After graduating they mostly struggle to find a job that has any relationship to their education and they end up in hospitality or some gig-economy job. Then over time they manage to learn and develop the skills that make them more employable.
It's also becoming clear that many older people who have worked for decades in their chosen profession, no longer have a skillset that makes them all that useful. When you now add the impact of 4IR, these same people will be worse off than a young person leaving college. Worse off because of their age - we all know that people over 50 are invisible to recruiters.
Contrast that Business Council article with a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum that stated automation will lead to a net loss of over 5 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies by 2020.
Aaaarrrgh!!! Who do we believe?
Fears about job replacement are acute in several industries. The financial services sector, where many relatively easy tasks such as data entry, will be automated, potentially causing widespread job losses. Clearly autonomous vehicles will displace people currently employed to drive a vehicle. Manufacturing has been automating for decades and throwing off jobs at a rapid rate.
4IR however will also attack industries that have been resistant to job losses even as technology has advanced. For example, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will replace stock market analysts and indeed many other analyst and research jobs where smart people apply technology to uncover the trends that support decision making. We can speculate on further impacts such as in health where currently nurses triage a patient's condition when that could potentially be handled by a robot nurse capable of asking relevant questions and instantly analyzing answers.
Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan said in September, 2018. “In our banks we have people behaving like robots doing mechanical things, tomorrow we’re going to have robots behaving like people. We have to find new ways of employing people and maybe people need to find new ways of spending their time… The truthful answer is we won’t need as many people.”
I think John Cryan was being truthful, unlike others who spruke a plainly pollyanna notion that 4IR will somehow be an economic nirvana for all.
"LONDON — Technological advances such as automation could increase global GDP by more than $US1.1 trillion over the next 10-15 years, according to a new report from analysts at JPMorgan Asset Management"
The JPMorgan headline above talks about 4IR being a GDP bonanza, it doesn't however say that the productivity boost leading to a $1.1trillion boost to GDP comes at the expense of jobs. Remember companies will boost productivity by deploying 4IR however it will be at the expense of moving to a smaller workforce.
Below a quote from a recent Deloitte report - "Positioning for prosperity? Catching the next wave"
......together, they represent a big ‘if’ facing our country: If Australia is to lift its growth trajectory over the next decade, we need a sense of urgency, long-term thinking, clarity, skills, inclusiveness, policy coherence, collaboration and – most important – confidence. This truly is the debate for our time, and one that Deloitte and the leaders we brought together believe must become a national conversation that engages all of Australia.
There it is again, that reference to SKILLS.
Of course it isn't just any skill, it's the skills that are relevant to the economy you are a part of. Economies don't stand still and neither should your skills. The old days when your University degree was the ticket to employment until you retired are long gone.
No matter what stage your career is at, your skills and competencies can't stagnate. We're in the era of lifelong learning, a constant process of re-skilling and tackling new challenges that build your suite of competencies.
Manly Innovation Hub mission:"At a time of unparalleled change in our societies, it's vital that people are equipped to take advantage of structural changes in their economy. MIH is a place to support our community in launching new enterprises, focusing on women, young adults, diversity and over 50s. Our mission is to positively impact the social and economic fabric of our community."
I truly feel that the work of Manly Innovation Hub is the work that will help the people of our region of Sydney to remain economically relevant and hopefully maybe even that ultimate ideal that Joseph Campbell spoke of.
About the author:
Greg Twemlow lives in Manly (Sydney, Australia) He is an accomplished CEO with a passion for technology, people and market success. Technical depth + business savvy + creative flair is a powerful formula enabling Greg to genuinely move-the-needle.