Preparing for Industries of the Future
Readers of this blog are familiar with issues surrounding technology and the future of employment. Previous blogposts have dealt with loss of jobs to technology, raising standards of living, guaranteeing basic income, and “new economy” jobs.
With technology contributing to the loss of manufacturing jobs in both developed and developing economies, writers have focused on various scenarios. The June 2014 blogpost (http://fiftyyearperspective.com/robots-are-us/) reported that human input into production will increasingly give way to automation. As a result, the share of income will move away from workers and more toward business owners and managers. Without adequate income to purchase the goods and services produced with automation, some form of basic guaranteed income may become necessary to maintain demand. Blogposts of July 2015 (http://fiftyyearperspective.com/technology-and-the-future-of-work/) and August 2015 (http://fiftyyearperspective.com/a-basic-income-for-all) expanded upon job losses.
In a blogpost in October 2015 (http://fiftyyearperspective.com/new-economy-jobs), the potential for new job-producing opportunities was seen as virtually limitless. Authors Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee wrote in Race Against the Machine that building upon previous innovations provides “more possible ways of configuring the different applications, machines, tasks, and distribution channels to create new processes and products than we could ever exhaust.”
A new book by Alec Ross, The Industries of the Future, expands on technological innovation in three areas: robotics; life sciences; and the “code-ification” of money, cybersecurity, and big data. The Internet and digitization are the driving forces behind these future industries.
Ross cites Japanese companies Toyota and Honda for leadership in inventing the next generation of robots. Japan’s aging population and shortage of caregivers have spurred research in robotics. Industrial and medical robotics research is led by Japan, the U.S., and Germany, while South Korea and China are major producers of consumer-oriented robots.
Genomics is changing life science research for diagnosing and treating cancer and mental illnesses, among other illnesses. Mobile phones can expand these services throughout the developing world. A mobile app called MedAfrica can check symptoms and alert for emergencies, and provide first aid information, doctor directories, and a hospital locator. It was developed in Kenya, where 93 percent of the population uses mobile phones.
Mobile phones also expand the possibilities for financial technology. What Alec Ross calls the code-ification of money builds on the trust established by online services such as ebay. The Square credit card reader is an example of digital technology in service to financial transactions. Mobile phones linking to PayPal and Alibaba’s Alipay expand coded markets into some of the world’s most isolated areas.
The common denominator for these “future industries” is the storage of information in digital form. Ross refers to data as the “raw material of the information age.” Big data serves as a tool for improving existing industries. He introduces the concept of “domain expertise” as a specialization that may exist in a particular geographic area. Detroit expertise in cars and Paris expertise in fashion are examples. Combining domain expertise with expertise in creating algorithms utilizing targeted data can improve upon existing tasks. Pasture Meter is a ‘precision-agriculture technology” developed in New Zealand. “Pasture Meter uses advanced sensor technology to take 200 measurements per second over vast swaths of farmland to identify how much grass is in a paddock so that dairy cows can be distributed most effectively for feeding.”
An African company called Andela was created to train young people in coding for technology jobs. With at least 1,000 hours of coding experience, “Andela Fellows” have high success rates in placement in tech companies. Ross cites successful applications in Africa utilizing domain expertise to improve management of grain storage and distribution and to improve best practices for dairy farmers. M-Pesa is a Kenyan mobile currency. Safaricom is an e-commerce loan service. These and other e-commerce services in Africa are creating jobs themselves, and creating business opportunities that are raising African living standards.
Ross advances the idea that fluency in programming language prepares people to think differently, abstracting problems into smaller parts and solving them. Free online resources such as Codeacademy and Scratch are used by millions of people worldwide to learn programming skills that prepare them for the industries of the future.