It seems like every day I read something about automation and the coming of a new generation of robots, poised to take over manufacturing, services and most job opportunities. The Financial Times runs features such as How To Stop Worrying and Love Robots and Rise of the Robots: Hug Your Job Tight. There are countless tools to help you figure out if a robot will take your job. The blockbuster Robots exhibition looks set to amaze and inspire when it comes to London's Science Museum, and on a recent trip to Vienna the main exhibit at the art museum, of all places, was The Promise of Total Automation. It's becoming clear that we're obsessed with robots - and, it must be said, just a little bit frightened.
In one of our kids' tech courses a couple of summers ago, the curator for Robots came to talk to our students about the history of robots and the detail and effort that goes into creating these exhibits. The discussion turned to what makes a robot and how humans interact with them. Among some of the more philosophical questions brought up by a crowd of insightful 9 and 10 year olds were 'Can you love a robot?', 'Can they love you back?' and 'Could robots become intelligent enough to make war to defend themselves against humans?'. Utterly fascinating and worthy of a French philosophy doctoral course.
We see our world changing around us. We are discombobulated when we are off line with more and more of our life spent 'in the cloud'. This is only going to increase as the Internet of Things means that we can control our physical world from a distance via apps. Already we have abandoned house keys for the kids, replacing them with an app. We've seen the first driver asleep at the wheel as the car takes over and drives itself. And as an added bonus, self-parking is coming as standard on some cars. So, where will this take us?
Well, there are some very real questions around what happens to our social fabric as more and more jobs can be done by machines. Basic manufacturing jobs have already been largely automated in big ways. The days of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang haircut machine are far behind us as automation gets increasingly sophisticated and even services become automated. Robots are serving as helpers and companions to elderly people and helping children with autism learn communication skills. So, standing at the front end of your education and career, how to do you figure this megatrend into your choices?
It's clear that one of the best ways to be sure that your future career, and life, does not lose out to automation is to be one of those who creates the next wave of innovation. So, think about the following:
- Machines are going to be more and more important so learn to communicate with them and control them. That is, learn to code.
- We expect to see robots taking on more and more tasks in our personal and work lives. Be on the team that is imagining and designing those innovations!
- Robots and automation don't live in a vacuum - it's essential that we understand how they work and how they connect with the world. Learn of the internet of everything, sensors and outputs. Get started by playing with an Arduino.
- All of those connected machines are going to be generating huge data and one of the major areas going forward is going to be how to use that data. How can that data make peoples lives easier, by 'learning' to anticipate people's needs? How do we look at the aggregated data to come up with new services and products. Get into Big Data and Machine Learning.
We know that the world is changing very fast now and while we don't expect robots to take over the world at large, they are going to play an increasingly important role in the world of work. I implore you, don't be caught out. Get interested, get involved, think about the innovations and be part of the revolution, lest you be left behind.