This is a guest post by Mandy Miller. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyMayM.
I was listening to a NPR story on the recent challenge held at Harvard against the famous IBM Watson. As you may recall, Watson beat out the all-time Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings earlier this year.
In the NPR segment, the reporter posed the question if technology is the reason for the elimination of many high-skill jobs. It got me thinking – have we out-invented ourselves? Are our technologies a reason for so few jobs today? What will my kids have to look forward to when entering the workforce? Will I even have a job in 20 or 40 years?
While we can laugh at the thought of the robotic future running our society, the thought isn’t that far from reality. When you consider how many assembly-line jobs were eliminated through new manufacturing technologies, who’s to say what else can’t be eliminated? Look at how many telephone systems are now automated for customer service, airlines systems have self check-ins and more efficient farming technologies we have to plant and harvest more and better yields. For auto repairs, so many cars are so electric that a mechanic can hook them up to a computer system for a quick diagnostic.
The story did note that healthcare would remain virtually untouched in terms of doctor-nurse and patient interaction. I’m not 100% in agreement with that. As you may also remember, shortly after Watson beat out Jennings, Nuance Communications and IBM announced a research collaboration to bring Watson to healthcare. From that announcement, many questioned how Watson would redefine healthcare, and, in some cases, especially for more dangerous military scenarios, eliminate the need for a human physician. Could it be with how automated our medical records are becoming that we could also be going to a computer (no, not WebMD) for a doctor visit?
I’m not convinced that our society will go sci-fi and we’ll have a robotic nation, but I do feel that we need to grasp the full scope of the lack of innovation in this country. Granted, you can’t go a day without seeing a story about how innovation has flat-lined. In a time where unemployment rates are at an all-time high and we face a double-dip recession, we really have to continue to address societal problems and create new industries. If we don’t, I really don’t feel we can keep up with technology. As corny as it sounds, as a human race, we need to keep up with the technology that we’re inventing. While technology makes our lives easier, we have to, in essence, be competitive with our own gadgets.
What are your thoughts? Are we so encompassed in the luxury of our own technologies that we are ignorant of our own (potential) demise? What is our solution?