Is this a nightmare scenario? Are we witnessing the beginning of a New Industrial Age, or rather a Technological Revolution with robots taking over most of Australia's jobs?
Robots have progressed to the stage where they can be programmed to almost, but not completely, thinking for themselves. They have moved from the simple to the complicated, working out moves at a speed that humans can only dream of. Robots can beat humans at Chess and Go but only because of that speed in calculating a myriad of possibilities.
They have taken over jobs in the manufacturing process. Computerized farming machinery is replacing people as tractors once replaced people and horses. We are now planning a Sydney-Melbourne passenger train with a two-hour run as technology improves – how many jobs will be lost or maybe created by this? Lawyers are moving highly-skilled work to computers, just another type of robot. Armies are dispensing with pilots as they control drones and their war materiel with a joy-stick from a distant office whilst technology disruption has reached medical research and even the operating theatre.
Redundancy is the buzz word of the future. Schools are beginning to concentrate upon STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths to keep up with changes, but many are now questioning if that is the correct way and if these skills will be the direction of tomorrow. The over fifties are finding that their skills which gave them steady jobs in the past are no longer required. For every administrative assistant job there are thousands of applicants, mostly females. Qualifications, certificates and trade tickets are a necessity for those wanting to enter the workforce, but will these jobs be there in ten years, in five years or even next year? Gone are the days when simple jobs were readily available. The car manufacturing industry which offered immediate and long-term work to so many migrants is now mostly run by robots combined with the whole industry's movement overseas where wage levels are lower than in Australia.
So where to now? What do we do with the unemployed? How should we educate the next generation? What skills should they be taught? They will also have to be operating within the global economy, a further challenge. And that comes down to you and your job, your workers and your future.
What is education? Is it a pathway to be part of an economy that will be run by robots? Or should education be about flexibility, having tools to enable change in one's life, about happiness, entrepreneurship to take hold of future opportunities? Will the cities of the future empty out as the jobs disappear? Will self-sufficiency in a semi-agrarian or sea-change lifestyle be an answer? Will there be pressure upon families left with a single-income earner to return to the days where one parent stays home to look after children and provide home-cooked food without a second car, without the McMansion and without holidays in Bali? Will the child-care industry survive if that happens?
Career paths are changing. There is disruption of the banking and financial industry with blockchain and distributive ledger technology. Journalists, accountants and lawyers are in the path of robots. But on the plus side robots can reverse the job losses to overseas, as they can return jobs onshore that are now being done by cheap overseas labour. Jobs of the future in this field will be robotic mechatronics and software engineers. As we have an ageing population, nursing and care of the elderly are jobs whose demands cannot be met today. Australia can also be the food bowl for Asia as improvements in water technology turn deserts in to arable land.
So many possibilities. Rather than seeing robots as a negative, we should harness their capabilities and be working towards a combination of lateral thinking and clever inventions to give us all less repetitive work, more leisure and a better lifestyle.