It was widely reported recently that US city of Pittsburgh has now allowed driverless cabs to operate within its boundaries and those new taxis have been doing brisk business.
It is also in the news that technology has now been developed to install similar automation to new trucks coming out of the assembly line. Industry experts say they believe we will likely see at least half of the major transportation work being done by driverless trucks within the next seven to 10 years.
That means an entire category of employment is to disappear from the books within a decade or so.
And this is only in transportation. Thinking of healthcare, the situation is not brighter.
Due to their strict loyalty to local culture, Japanese are very reluctant to invite healthcare workers from other countries to take care of their aging population. Consequently, there is almost a race against time to develop and manufacture robots to be used in hospitals and care centres in Japan to reduce the workload of medical staff and caregivers. Once that process bears fruit, it goes without saying that those robots will find their way into hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout the world.
In the meantime, automation in the manufacturing industries is surging ahead as major corporations revise and revamp their production processes, drastically decreasing their human workforce.
How much are these factors in the minds of the students who have been filling classrooms at our high schools this week for the new academic year?
It is they who will feel the brunt of the impact of automation on the exponentially dwindling job market, but they are too young to be contemplating such a distant future at a time when they should be enjoying life.
Or is it parents that should be thinking how they should be guiding their children into such a precarious future? But admittedly, most of the parents are nowadays busy trying to make ends meet even before having to accommodate the expenses for the new school year; lots of pens, crayons, notebooks and other stationery (a sizable portion of which, you can rest assured, will remain unused at the end of the school year) in addition to a new computer or another digital device. A decade later is far too distant to think about in the midst of today’s compelling difficulties.
Are educators responsible for preparing the youth to the uncertainties of the future? In a sense yes, but they also have the task of implementing a curriculum for which they are accountable to the government and there is a limit to their creativity in how they interpret the tasks they have to deliver on.
As for our provincial government, they are just trying to balance the tasks of pleasing the electorate while also keeping their powerbase happy, as today’s unemployment woes are a far bigger threat that needs to be tackled as compared what happens 10 or 15 years down the road.
So, there you have a colossal problem looking at our face from two decades ahead and we have yet to start to discuss how to deal with it let alone thinking on possible solutions.
And the fact that transformations that used to take a decade or two in the 20th century are now realized within a couple of years only adds to the urgency.
So, the boys and girls that head to classrooms this week are going to face enormous challenges when they come to the point of having to provide for themselves and their families as the social and economic order they were born into will have drastically altered by then, and not necessarily for the better.
The problem is the dynamics of change are so powerful that we, either as individuals or communities, have no way of influencing the trends, let alone controlling them. Our only choice is to go with the flow.
The flow, however, is getting too strong and too fast for even those who, voluntarily or otherwise, will go with it and it is inevitable that it will drown many who are not prepared.