Objects In The Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear: The Future of Work

You’ve seen the warning in your rear-view mirror, “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” Well, now it’s true – Technology is advancing at a much faster pace, which also means the future is approaching more rapidly than ever. Now is the era where self-driving cars, new chatbots that talk, algorithms that respond to customer service inquiries, and machines that read X-rays are no longer fiction, and soon will be integrated into every field and deeply rooted in our lives, just like computers, cars, phones, internet, and electricity already are today.

Yet, even as these technologies are increasing our productivity, opening up new markets and special job opportunities, and reshaping our world, their use will soon replace many tasks and activities that humans are currently performing – an evolution that has triggered much public concern. In fact, in the last couple of years, a project by Google’s DeepMind and the University of Oxford has applied deep learning to a huge data set of BBC programs to create a lip-reading system that is considerably more capable and proficient than a professional human lip-reader. In 2008, Syntouch, a company specialized in Machine Touch, introduced a new solution to the tech world which is a sensor that provides robots with a sense of “touch” and the ability to “feel” textures and objects just like humans do.

As the developed world adjusts to this new reality, many developing countries, like Lebanon, are struggling to cope with these technological advancements that have already replaced some of their jobs. The World Economic Forum estimates that 33% of jobs in 2020 won’t even exist. This implies that one-third of all working people today won’t be in the same jobs by then and will need a totally different set of skills. In the case of developing countries that are standing in the wake of accelerating automation, existing jobs are under threat of disappearing without being replaced by any human activity, as the current education systems aren’t providing the necessary skills to excel in these new jobs.

What will happen to our jobs in a robot future?

It is no wonder that Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO suggests in an interview with CNBC that we may need to support “universal basic income” – a system in which guarantees that all citizens of the world receive a standard amount of money each month that covers their basic expenses like food, rent, and clothes. Bill Gates recently proposed taxing robots, in an interview with Quartz. These striking positions from well-known tech-optimists raise questions about what automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence might mean for workers.

Very few can answer what the Earth’s 7.5 billion humans should be currently doing to prepare themselves for this coming future. Truth be told, the “Future of Work” conversation is essentially a “Future of Education” one. The current educational system, built during the industrial revolution more than 100 years ago to fill factories and corporations with human capital, is failing to provide young people with job opportunities in today’s high tech world.

Governments, NGOs and private sector programs around the world are urgently seeking to address this new landscape. Hult Prize, the world’s largest platform for impact entrepreneurship, just kicked off their 10th anniversary and issued their 10th challenge in partnership with the United Nations. This year’s theme is about “Youth Unemployment – For Us by Us” where the world’s University students are being asked to launch for good for-profit startups that seek to create 10,000 jobs for youth in the next decade. The program seeks to provide experience-based learning opportunities that enable students to develop real-world skills outside of the classroom, turning them from job seekers into job creators. In order to face the challenges posed by an increasingly automated workforce, students must be given greater opportunities like that for action-based learning, allowing them to develop the type of skills that are much more difficult to replace. University curricula must be amended to reflect this, and the Hult Prize represents a giant leap in the right direction. Now it’s YOUR  turn.

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