home courses Tech@Work: Learner’s Blogs on Disruptive Technologies and the Changing World of Work – Part 1

Tech@Work: Learner’s Blogs on Disruptive Technologies and the Changing World of Work – Part 1

To share knowledge and build community, we would like to share with you some of the participants in the Technology@Work MOOC’s blog posts below.

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I always prided myself as being ‘techie’ person. I love new gadgets, spend lots of money on them. I then spend hours trying to figure them out. The logical flow of menus and operations come easily to me. However, I am not a technology expert, by training or any other means. I am just a curious, self-taught, observer and user with a finance degree and a mind for numbers.

I am also a woman of a particular age and lots of people don’t expect me to know and understand as much I do. But I do and my close friends and associates have come to accept this and occasionally seek my help to navigate application and functions. This is why the Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) about Tech@work fascinates me. Companies are moving fast with the revolutionary trend; Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a growing network of physical objects that have an IP address for Internet connectivity, and the communication that occurs between these objects and other Internet-enabled devices and systems. Doug Davis, senior VP of Internet of Things for Council Associate Partner Intel, in an interview with Venture Beat said, “We think this is going to grow to 50 billion devices and trillions of dollars of economic impact. It will change the way we live and work. As we go out talking, we see more companies investing in it. We are making a transformation from a PC-oriented company to one that powers things that are connected to the cloud and everything necessary to make that happen.” Smart cities use mostly IoT technology increasing sensors as they develop, either in installations of LED lighting, transportation and in emerging technology like smart buildings and renewable energy. Recent estimates reveal that there will be as many as 1 trillion sensors connected to the internet by 2022, and there are currently twelve billion devices connected to the internet. It goes on as innovations and options arise. The future is already with us, and we must all rise to the occasion.

This is well illustrated here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mpe651AdmZA.  A lady driving long distance on her own and notices a warning that her brakes are worn out and need replacing. An elaborate chain of events is triggered from the car itself to the manufacture of the car to the parts needed. To the location where she can get it on her way without making a detour is incredible. Her safety and that of road users are guaranteed. As a lady driver, this hits home.

Now imagine using IoT for medical care, disease prevention, education, child care, security, agriculture, etc. the world would indeed to a better and safer place – a world, I will be delighted to engage and participate in.

 

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It is now possible to gather all the information related to what we (humans) say, write, like, hate, among others. This broad information is called Big Data. It is widely used by people working in marketing or medical research to have cross-sectional data about their customers or patients. The latter, of course, creates a bunch of new questions: how are going to deal with privacy?

Moreover: how are we, decision-makers, going to be affected by this?

I feel particularly interested in dealing with the possible answers to the second question. We are not sure about this, but I believe that all this information might bias our cognitive thought. In other words, we will have machines doing all the thinking (related to decision-making) by us, telling us what their algorithms say about what it’s best for us. Perhaps a positive way to see it is that we will “free-up” some space in our minds to deal with more important things. Among other lines, I think Big Data will have a tremendous effect on the academic disciplines as we know it. It will be far easier to cross data from several disciplines and take a step further from their increasing specialization, which will allow us to have a better understanding of the different study objects/subjects.

 

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Manufacturing companies will need to spend millions to upgrade and put in place automation systems to enable a dark factory. The process will involve design, adaptation, testing and trials and the high cost of remodeling would be prohibitive.

It will reduce labour costs, and the non-human nature will make the process more consistent in terms of time and quality. Not to mention, the dark factories will lower overhead costs in electricity, heat or air conditioning, driving efficiency up.

However, I am not an advocate of the lights-out manufacturing system. I am not a technical person professionally. My training, skills, and experience are more towards the law and social and interpersonal interactions. From my perspective, therefore, I believe we are rushing head-long into areas of innovation without calculating the costs to our socio-economic well-being or at best, glossing over it. What happens to those who will inevitably lose their jobs?

I read an article where upon being asked what would happen to the factory workers who are left without jobs when the robots take over. A CEO of an electronics manufacturing company in China, which is actively working towards full automation of its factory, said they will most likely return to their hometowns or villages to find employment maybe on a farm or in a shop. A factory worker, after years of working in a process, becomes highly skilled in that process. It is hard to imagine such a person serving tea in a Chinese countryside.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a worldwide phenomenon about to happen. The gains are undeniable. However, robotics and Artificial Intelligence are rapidly progressing in capabilities and implementation and are poised to take over many jobs at an exponential rate. But what concerted effort has been made to address and provide workable solutions to the attendant unemployment this would cause? Universal Basic Income sounds too much like a ‘feel-good-for-the-moment’ type of solution. Because ultimately, people need to work. Humans are biologically programmed to derive satisfaction from their achievement by using their minds and hands. Free money and lots of free time will eventually lose its appeal. The resultant social fall-out from this may include higher rates of social vices.

Granted, there are some areas or functions in the manufacturing process that are better performed by automation because of its high-risk nature to humans. However, this full-scale replacement of human workers with machines will render millions without a source of livelihood.

 

More learners’ blog to come next week!

 

 

 

 

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Kai Hsin Hung

Kai-Hsin Hung is an External Collaborator with the ITC-ILO. He develops and designs curriculum and prototypes new sustainable learning solutions. His focus is innovation and knowledge synthesis of complex development challenges, including the future of work, food security, and climate change. He has broad experience in various roles in international advocacy, program management, and policy research at the International Development Research Centre and Global Affairs Canada. Follow him at @KaiHsinHung

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