May 7, 2017

Jack Ma to World: Prepare for Decades of Pain

Maya Kosoff - Vanity Fair:

Over the weekend, the executive chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma, added his voice to the dystopian chorus. “In the next 30 years, the world will see much more pain than happiness,” the Chinese tech billionaire said at a entrepreneurship conference in Zhengzhou, Bloomberg reports. “Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life.”

Ma warned attendees that the education system must change to account for seismic advancements in technology—including artificial intelligence, robotics, and manufacturing automation—that will disrupt the labor market and create massive societal upheaval. He also cautioned against giving robots too much autonomy. “Machines should only do what humans cannot,” Ma argued. “Only in this way can we have the opportunities to keep machines as working partners with humans rather than as replacements.”

Ma’s talk goes to the heart of recent political upheaval and deception in the US.

Ma spoke about the rise of online retail supplanting bricks-and-mortar shopping years ago, before it happened in earnest.

Today businesses large and small struggle with customers “show rooming” their store before heading online to make their purchase

He speaks now about the effects of robotics we’re already seeing: witness a modern automobile manufacturing plant, or what’s left of the coal mining industry. Much of what was once done by hands is now handled by specialized robots assembling and welding, or heavy equipment moving massive volumes of rock and coal.

All of this automation must be tooled, programmed, and maintained by people with specialized knowledge. These are generally well-paying jobs, but jobs unavailable to workers without the right education. The days of finding employment, working steadily for decades, and retiring to a livable pension on a high school degree left us decades ago. The notion of doing all this while remaining in one's hometown is a fleeting memory.

In short, Ma speaks about evolving our education system to produce students qualified for work in our evolving economy, because the jobs that have been replaced by automation are not coming back to human hands. That’s the message we should be getting from our elected leaders. Those are the policies we need to put tax dollars behind, or in just a decade or two we’ll have far more “left behind” communities across the country, populated by defeated, unemployed Americans. And that, more than anything else, will lead to true social upheaval making our recent election look like a mild dust-up.

#employment #automation #technology #politics

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