Technology is being invented and advanced every day, in countless ways. I believe that the rate of technological change is greater today than at any time in the history of mankind, and in fact it is not only changing at a high velocity, it is still accelerating. The future will likely bring more and faster change than we see today.
How can we categorize types of changes, as they affect our lives? There are changes that make our lives easier. There are changes that offer us more opportunities to grow and expand our horizons, our understanding. There are changes that are just fun. There are changes that improve our health and extend our lives. There are also changes that make our lives more frenetic and anxiety-filled. There are changes that can obsolete our skills. There are changes that can affect our livelihood.
Some examples, so we’re all on the same page. Cellphones that make communication by voice, texting and email make our lives easier. Search engines and low cost travel allow us to grow and expand horizons. Online gaming and streaming movies are just fun. New medicines and surgical procedure improvements extend our lives. Some of the same things that can make our lives easier can also make them more frenetic if we let them, e.g., texting and email can force professionals to be on call 24/7. An example of a change that can obsolete our skills is the use of artificial intelligence to provide financial counselling. Our livelihood can be changed by a new robotic device that can perform manufacturing tasks cheaper and more reliably than a human.
The beneficial changes we can choose to accept and use, or ignore. We know the next generation will adopt them, even if we don’t. But what about the changes with negative consequences? There is always a temptation to wish they would go away, to protest, to legislate them out of existence. The lessons of history teach that change can be artificially delayed, but not stopped. In England, during the Industrial Revolution, a group of people called Luddites tried to destroy machines that were taking away the handicrafts of spinning and weaving. They succeeded in destroying individual machines, but lost the war. The French were more recently afraid of job losses to many causes, including automation; they legislated a 35 hour maximum work week, and we see where that got them.
So, is there any solution to mitigating changes that are harmful to some people, or do we give up? Dealing with those changes that make our lives more frenetic has to be done through policy changes, both by individuals and employers. But government, in partnership with employers, labor unions, and individuals can have a positive role to play in dealing with changes that result in unemployment due to obsolescence of skills and abilities. Improvement in K-12 education, fostering a culture of lifelong learning, and most of all, training and retraining programs are the only answers. Future postings on this blog will deal with those issues.
4 thoughts on “Technological Change”
I look forward to more posts on how to deal with impact of technology. This has a dramatic impact on everyday of life and anxious to explore how individuals, employers, trade and interest groups and even government can play a positive role in enhancing the positives and mitigating the negatives.
Thanks for your comments, Michael. I agree completely that it is important, and will be coming out soon, maybe in 8-10 days. I have one other topic to get out first.
Every advance in technology has seen an expansion of jobs over time, but short term disruption in pockets. Clearly training, education, market demand, and the passage of time will solve this problem. As one of my long time board members and investors says, in the future there will be three kinds of people – (1) people who machines tell what to do; (2) people who tell machines what to do; and (3) people who tell the people who tell machines what to do, what to do.
There will still be plenty of decent Category 1, jobs working with (or even for) machines. There will still be plenty of Category 3 jobs in management and leadership. What we need to focus on are Category 2 jobs, where demand is WAY outstripping supply at the moment. The market will catch up, because that economic imbalance is driving salary expense through the roof on software development and related professions. But training and education have to catch up as well. And a looser legal immigration policy has to play a role in Category 1 jobs, of course (and today, Category 2 jobs).
Thanks, Matt, for the thoughtful remarks. Unfortunately, this Administration and Congress are moving in the opposite direction, towards greater restrictions on legal immigration, at least at this moment. And the significant number of unfilled jobs due to a shortage in the desired skills will eventually create the supply needed. But one good role of government, is to create the policies that will solve the problem. More in a future post.