You’ve heard of the industrial revolution, and we are still feeling the effects of the incredible change that happened in that time. What you might not know is that we are potentially on the cusp of a second industrial revolution brought about by one thing in particular: automation.
What will this mean for us in the future?
Explosion in the amount of leisure time – as more people work primarily on machines that do the jobs we used to do, many in my generation and those older than me will be left behind. Schooling hasn’t even close to caught up with the demands of the future by teaching programming, critical thinking, or by putting more priority on teaching (encouraging) arts and creative expression. Children are still being taught to memorise facts for a test that are easier to look up on a smartphone that they all have. This is because it’s the easiest way to test them en-mass, but not because those are the skills that they will need. We will have a lot more time on our hands without a job to go to. This is both a good and a bad thing, and I am definitely concerned about what a world will look like when so many of us will have no purpose to wake up in the morning.
Unemployment – Automation will lead to a lot of unemployment in the next ten or twenty years, and many believe that basic income will become standard throughout the world. Basic income basically means that the government welfare programs will expand to everybody, as a high percentage of people may not have jobs, but will still need money to buy things they need and keep the flow of money in the economy. I’m not just talking about low-skilled manual jobs. A lot of those are already gone or are disappearing as we speak. Think long-haul trucking and taxis (self-driving cars), banking (ATMs are just the start), financial analysts (it turns out computers are much better at predicting and organising the flow of money than people) and even journalism (actually writing isn’t particularly hard for computers). Computers are good at a lot of things, so we need to become better at the things that computers can’t do.
What does the second industrial revolution mean for us today?
It means that the times we live in right now offer great opportunities and dire warnings. Elon Musk has admitted to “unschooling” his children because, in his words: “I didn’t see the regular schools doing the things I thought should be done.”
When we teach our children to how to learn and think for themselves rather than simply which facts to memorise, we give them an incredible gift. There is still room, after the automation of so much of our work today, for the human and emotional work that provides incredible value, and that machines can’t take over anytime soon. We just need to lean in and accept that automation is coming whether we like it or not, and we can rise to meet the challenge.