The advancement of technology part 2

Throughout history, technical advances often caused disruptions, but eventually, they improved people’s living standards, creating new jobs, and improve the economy. For example, industrial innovations disrupted agriculture areas, many farmers lost their job but they found jobs in manufacturing, and their living standard was improving, better than working on the farm.

However, the advance of Information Technologies is different. It disrupts many jobs and changes everything. The reason is technology changes fast, and most people could NOT learn the new skills fast enough to find a new job. In the next few years, more works will be done by robots, and automation technologies, but only a few highly educated people could benefit. As more works will be done by machines, most labor jobs will be eliminated, and people without proper education will not be able to find work, and there will be a high unemployment and chaotic in many countries.

Today Robotics technology has advanced so fast, and competitive has reduced the price significantly. A few years ago, manufacturing robots could cost over half a million dollars, but today the price has dropped to a few thousand where small factories can afford to buy them. According to a China’s factory news, some robots are now cost less to operate than the wages of workers in China. Therefore, China is now taking the lead in building “zero-labor” manufacturing plants, with robots doing all of the work to keep its export economy growing. But China’s build robots are still behind American and German robots which could do more for much less. Since 2014, more manufacturers were closed shop in China and returning to American shores, leaving several million Chinese workers without a job.

Even with these facts, some people still do not believe that it could happen to them. A few months ago when I gave a talk about artificial intelligence in a conference, a government official told me: “I do not think machines can be smarter than people. Technical people often exaggerate things like in science fictions.” Of course, it has not happened in his country or threatened his position, so he did not care. But my concern is what will happen when automation and robotics happen there? Do his people know how to handle this problem? Do they have enough skilled people to take advantage of the technology advancement? How many people also have the same attitude of if it does not happen to me, I do not care about it?”

Today a smart machine can learn and solve complex mathematical equations that have baffled mathematicians for many years. For example, an IBM computer beat the world chess champion, Gary Kasparov and since then, no chess player can win a match with this “Deep Blue” computer. In an interview with the newspapers a few months later, Garry Kasparov told of his shock and anger at being defeated by a computer. He said that he was traumatized by having a machine beat him. He knew of the advance of technology but never believed it would beat him at his chess game. He said: “Nobody could believe a computer can learn all complex moves until it is true.” A few months ago, another Google computer also beat the best “Go” players from China and Japan. “Go” is a complex strategy board game that has been popular in Asia for thousand years. “Go” is the games played by emperors and scholars with hundred thousand of moves but few who could master it. By winning in this complex game, the advance of artificial intelligence has advanced to the level that within a few years, many things could be solved by intelligence machines.

Today self-driving technology already threaten taxi and truck drivers, and it is predicted that within ten years, people will not have to learn how to drive anymore as all new cars will be self-driving cars. Factory automation already changes the entire manufacturing domain, and these disruptions have created a large number of unemployed factory workers all over the world. The question is “When will it happen in my country?” and “What can we doing about it?”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University