Despite the improving economy in the US, I see an inevitable truth along the horizon. I read stories, articles, papers, and books from authors; some describing the scenarios of more jobs, others describing the scenarios of no jobs being left. There’s always a middle ground, the hope that someone or something will step in to save society from the crawl towards the unknown questions: “Where are we heading? Do we automate everything? Or do we repeat history and create a new array of jobs?” Then comes the possible solutions: universal income, taxing machines, and the latter. Yet all of this is nothing more than a can kicked down the road. It’s taking a problem and avoiding what I think is the truth: Technology is changing our lives faster than we can change ourselves.
None of this is news, most people don’t know how their own smartphones work and it matter as well be magic. Yet, we use it for everything. It runs our lives, manages it, and helps us stay connected with the world and social circles we live in. Without it, our entire lives change. Reaching out to our inner social circle or just figuring out what is going on seems impossible. At our jobs, we rely on the computers and mobile devices we use to get any kind of work done. Yet, the majority of people couldn’t tell you how or why any of the things they use work; it just does.
To me, to offer money as a basic compensation isn’t the answer to automation. There needs to be something beyond that. Today, the kind of automation we are looking at are mostly jobs people don’t want to do in the first place. The concept of after school work or side jobs for a college student on winter break will all go the way of the paper boy. The jobs that come after them will not be robots, but machines managed by more people and of these people they will be asked to do more and to know more. That’s the key part; knowing more. My biggest fear is that rather than invest in the education of our own society, we will let it rot and come up with systems that will do nothing but have us become more and more out of date–dependent on the technology we don’t understand. The next generation needs to be more than just the average person. We need individuals who are constantly willing to learn and not afraid to head back to the classroom. We need individuals who want to be problem solvers, not poets.
There will be a time where eventually there won’t be anymore jobs that require a bachelor’s degree. Instead, it will require a master’s degree and we even see that trend beginning today; some fields of work require a master’s degree as minimum entry. College will not be for those who want to enrich their lives with general knowledge, but it will be an institution solely based on the specialization of skills and networking with businesses. These trends are already happening today, especially with some institutions pushing programs like accelerated master’s programs that give you both your bachelor’s and master’s within 5 years. There are schools that advertise their vast connections with large corporations that like to recruit fresh graduates. All of these offerings come with a heavy price tag. To get a job today costs a lot of money and it will most likely cost even more in the future.
Offering society a monetary stipend for simply being a citizen is not enough to survive in an automated world. If anything, that would be the perfect end game of a highly advanced civilization. Instead, we need to understand that fields like mathematics, science, medicine, and technology are going to become the average white color job. But nobody is interested. Rather, we are turned off by the low levels of technology. Science is too hard and so is math. Technology has its interesting fields, but it is not for everyone. If we do not enrich the coming generations to get excited about these fields, then not even something like universal income can save our society. What will prevent automation from causing economic hardship, is teaching a new society how to push that automation further. We don’t need more jobs, but what we need are careers. We need fields and positions that offer lasting challenges and offer career paths to continue the trend of automation. But most importantly, we need a generation of willing people eager to drive those challenges.