In the near future…

Last week, I attended a conference about future technologies where several researchers presented their views about the future. According to them, in the next ten to twenty years, technologies will completely change many things that people could not even think that they could happen. For example, advances in medicine will allow many people to live longer to over 100 years; robots will drive cars, trucks, boats, and machines will manufacture most products; smartphones will be “your medical doctor” as well as provide many things that you need; over 95% of office and manufacturing works will be automated and over 65% of household works can be done by “servant” robots.

These speakers are not dreaming as they are all serious experts in their fields. They did not just talk but also presented their inventions, their research and show their prototypes on the technology that they are working on. One speaker explained: “Self-driving technology is already here. It is being refined for commercialization now and will be available within the next five years. Cars companies such as GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and Mercedes already tested their self-driving cars and soon these cars will be available for purchase.” He predicted that by the end of this decade, Self-driving cars will replace human drivers and there will be no need for taxi, bus, and truck drivers. He went further by saying that it is possible that by 2040, people will not be allowed to drive cars anymore as self-driving cars are better and safer. Most streets and freeway will be controlled by sophisticated computer systems so there will not be issue with traffic jam anymore.”

There were several actual self-driving cars presented at the conference for people to see with several short films demonstrated how these cars navigated traffic in the busy street of San Francisco and New York. Sergey Brin, the founder of Google already go to work on his self-driving car and several famous movies stars also have their own self-driving Mercedes.

Next to the self-driving technology show room is the technology for unmanned planes technology section. Unmanned planes or drones are already being used in the military and smaller version can be used to deliver letters or packages to your house. Amazon is already testing it and applying for permit to deliver packages and letters to your home using these drones. Google also have several models in testing and soon there is no need to have postmen or delivery people.

In the telecommunication show room, there were several presentations. One speaker said: “Today smartphones already monitor your health such as heart rate, numbers of step you make, how much calories you used etc. but soon smartphones will do more. It will measure your brain activities, your metabolism, your physical conditions then integrated with your medical records, your genes, your family health history etc. and using big data analytics to give you all the health information that you need. Basically with “Doctor in your phone” you will not need to go to see medical doctor on an annual basis. Your phone will contact your doctor if it finds something wrong with your health. Smartphone will do much more and getting sophisticated with millions of mobile apps to do almost everything that you need.”

There was a large show room with hundred robots, large and small. A speaker said: “In the past ten years, robots were replacing manufacturing workers. Over 80% of factories in the U.S. are using robots and the cost of operate robots is getting cheaper, today it costs less than the salary of human worker. Of course using robots is highly efficient with better quality and productivity since robots work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. They only need routine maintenance every six months. Currently robotics companies are modifying these big factory robots so they can work in agriculture farming areas and shopping market. A smaller version is being tested to work at home so housewives can rent a robot for few hours to clean house, cook, and do whatever they want. Some robots can be programmed also take children to school on self-driven cars. The speaker explained: “When automated factory using robots, companies can increase profits by 45% within three years that is why even low cost countries such as China, Malaysia are buying more robots for their factories.”

Every technology company that I visited also needs more technology workers. A manager told me: “We can hire five to eight thousand software developers each year since our business is growing fast. We build fifty types of robots and they all need software. The problem is we cannot find enough software graduates, most of them are hired by Google and Facebook. Robotic industry is growing fast but without software, we cannot expand.” Another manager told me: “Technology is changing everything but there are not enough technology workers to support this expansion. We could reach several billion dollars in sales within the next few years but we cannot do that without skilled workers.”

There was a clear message from the conference that there is a critical shortage of technology workers, especially in software area. However I did not think much about it because the law of supply and demand will solve this problem. Currently the number of students enrolling in STEM fields is increasing fast in every university. More students are enrolling in computer science, software engineering than ever before. But what I am concerned is the number of unskilled workers, people who drive taxi, truck and people who work in agriculture using their labor to make a living. How do they know that in the future, they will not be able to find jobs. What will happen to them? What will happen to their family? What will happen to the future of their children? We are in the transition period from industrial age to information age, which is similar to what happened during the transition from agriculture age to industrial age as there were some people who were left behind. How can we create enough works for all who need job? How many people are aware of this situation? The Agriculture age lasted over five thousand years; the industrial age lasted over two hundred years but today the transition to Information age is happening now with the speed of the Internet. Its will change everything within a few years much faster than most people could think. The evidences are very clear about what will happen next but how many economists are paying attention to this situation. On TV, top economists are still debating about financial policies and banking stimulus packages but few would pay attention to the impact of technology. How many economists would understand that automation will eliminates more labor jobs and the result could be a disaster? Of course technology will create a different kind of new jobs but all future jobs will require advanced knowledge and skills which means education systems must change quickly to catch up. However, I do not see any the urgency to change, from teachers or students about the coming technology disruption. Last month my friend told me that in his country, people still consider STEM education or active learning are luxury for developed countries but do not apply to developing countries.

Self-driving cars:

Amazon’s drones delivery systems:

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