The Future Is Coming And The Government Isn't Ready
In opinion / By Mike Vizard / 05 January 2017
Economies are a fragile thing.
Interdependencies seen and unseen can have dramatic impacts on one segment versus another, what keeps it all in balance is that structural changes tend to take place at an evolutionary pace and in that, they are generally limited to a few segments of the economy at a time.
But consider what might occur if instead of there being evolutionary change across a few segments, there was radical change being driven by advances in IT that were occurring across many segments all at once.
For example, within the next five years the following transformations are all but guaranteed to now occur:
SAP is talking about how entire accounting departments can be eliminated because the process to matching invoices to completed requests for services will soon be automated using machine learning algorithms.
Google, Uber, Lyft along with the entire automotive industry have already made it clear there soon will be no need for taxi, bus and truck drivers.
IBM, among other things, aims to use artificial intelligence to reduce the amount of time it takes to process legal cases in a way that will sharply reduce the need for as many lawyers as there are today.
Salesforce is actively working on AI technology that will eliminate the need for troves of sales managers.
Robots coupled with 3D printers are transforming both large and small-scale manufacturing all around the globe.
You can easily see a world where customer service representatives will soon give way to bots, ones that are not only more capable of sorting through massive data to resolve complex issues instantaneously, but can also make more informed recommendations using natural language. Every IT vendor worth their salt has plans to automate the management of IT infrastructure in ways that eliminate the need for broad swaths of the IT department.
The future of the data centre involves one guy and a dog. The dog is there to keep him from touching anything.
The general assumption is that the people performing these tasks today will find some other undetermined way to add value. The trouble with that assumption is that there’s no real understanding of how long that process may take.
In fact, the truth is there’s no assurance that it will happen at all. It’s quite conceivable within the next five years, millions of people might be economically displaced in ways that at this instance in time very few of them fully appreciate.
That’s especially problematic because should tens of millions of people become either unemployed or underemployed at the same time they obviously won’t have the income required to generate demand for goods and services; much less pay taxes.
Industries will be more efficient than ever. But even if the cost of goods and services is lowered, a reduced pool of people with the financial wherewithal to consume those good and services -- including the ones provide by IT companies -- means there will not be enough incentive to produce them in high volume in the first place.
IT professionals obviously have an obligation to alert the businesses they work for to the potential existential threats advances in automaton represent to their existence. But it’s also clear that many politicians around the globe are being elected on the premise that they can somehow protect jobs in the current era of globalization.
But hardly any of them has a real appreciation for the speed and scale at which many of those jobs will soon be eliminated outright, even though there may be some continued demand for people to perform some tasks.
Within the next five years just about every industry is going to need fewer people than they employ today.
Alas, there is no meaningful public policy dialogue pertaining to what to do at a societal level about these changes. In the absence of large scale demand for products and services there’s a very real prospect that capitalism as we currently know it might be unsustainable.
The trouble is that no other economic model appears to any better equipped to deal with the impact of large scale automation either.
There’s clearly a need for a meaningful conversation about what the economic implications of automation at levels of unprecedented scale, if only because the rise of populism across so many countries these days can be directly tied to feelings of economic unease.
The average person has some sense of the effect of automation on their economic well-being, but little understanding of how advances in IT helped bring that about. This means there’s a lot less faith in an unseen guiding hand being able to achieve a market equilibrium that benefits more than just a few. That lack of faith is already creating political vacuums that come with all kinds of potential future hazards.
None of this means there’s widespread revolution in the offing, but it does means that IT people that tend to overly focus on the joys of creating engineering marvels need to start educating the body politic about the economic impact all these simultaneous advances will have. It’s not going to be isolated bunch of weavers complaining about the arrival of steam engines that can be easily dismissed as Luddites that will be the problem, it’s going be large scale numbers of people from all walks of life that will suddenly find themselves in a need of training to move into a new career.
The truth of the matter is there are no government policies being put into motion today that are likely to have a meaningful impact on minimizing a large-scale economic disruption of this magnitude.
Unfortunately, it’s also probable that future will arrive inevitably sooner than anyone ever thinks.
It’s up to the IT community to make it abundantly clear to policy makers around the globe exactly just what is exactly coming in economic terms they can all simply understand. Only then are governments around the world likely to even start thinking about putting the training resources in place that will undoubtedly be needed to enable people to successfully rise to what hopefully will be more compelling career opportunities. The future is coming and the government isn't ready, we need to make sure that they are.