The fast pace of change

According to The New York Times, when competing for jobs between robots and humans, the robots will win. Today manufacturing factories in the U.S. and Europe are increasingly using robots to automate their production lines. As more robots are being used, more workers are losing their jobs. The article is based on a research by MIT that found robots have eliminated up to 670,000 manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007. The article concluded that more workers will lose jobs in the next five years because the number of industrial robots are expected to quadruple.

The article creates debates about whether the advanced automation technology will help or hurt people, or even displace humans. There is a concern among government leaders that the new jobs created by technology are not equal to the number of job lost resulting an inequality in the social structure and high unemployment. An economist wrote: “In the past, we have the rich and the poor, now we have the “Technology super rich” and the “Labor super poor.” In this technology-driven world, if people do not have technology skills, they will never find a good job.” That view puts pressure on the education systems to shift their training quickly to providing more technology trainings. The newspaper also interviewed Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates and all of them agreed that robots are taking people’s jobs and warned that we should proceed with caution about artificial intelligence, else we may lose control over very “smart machines.”

However, there is another view that technology will create more jobs, not less. An article in The Harvard Business Review titled “Beyond Automation” concluded that instead of viewing machines taking more jobs, we must look further into newer possibilities of new jobs. In this era of innovation, there will always be the “next big ideas” as people will continue to innovate and invent more technologies. Therefore, competitive advantage will change by newer technology then automation may not be the best solution by that time. Soon, the success of companies may depends more on innovation than the cost efficiency of automation. According to this view, a good technology education is required to provide more highly skilled workers who can innovate and create more technologies and jobs for people.

Regardless which views are right, the key is still having a good education to develop technology workers to survive this technology driven world. The question is: How fast can current education changes when more technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and driverless cars are coming at an accelerate speed?


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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