Will robots make up for the upcoming Boomer exodus?

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In the past, I have written extensively about how M2M/IoT will eliminate a large number of jobs.  While it might not make a job completely obsolete, it will certainly reduce the number of people needed in that particular role by up to 95%.  Think farmers...a couple of centuries ago the vast majority of us worked on a farm. Now that number has dropped to 5%. These jobs were not completely eliminated by the introduction of the steam/combustion engine, but pretty close.

So, does that mean that the introduction of this new disruptive technology is all about rich people getting richer?  Well, in some ways, sure, but it also solves another key issue....we're getting older.

The largest cohort of people in history (the Baby boomers) are now fully into the "Back-nine" of their working careers and this poses two huge issues.....

1. How do we replace the skills that they have, especially in areas that are not as well-filled by the millennials, such as blue collars trades like welders?

2. How do we care for such a large portion of elderly people, especially ones with a much longer life expectancy than previous generations?

Are robots the answer?


\nFor the first question, I think that robots/automation can definitely help, but not necessarily as job replacements.  I see it more as a way to make people more productive.  I look at it in the same way that a legal office works.  For the most part, all work that comes into a law office COULD be done by a law partner, including all of the clerical work.  However, this makes no sense as why would you want to have someone making hundreds of dollars per hour doing that?  So, most law firms have a hierarchy of people, with clerical staff doing some work, junior lawyers handling a lot of the legal work and partners focusing on the highest level of work requiring the most skill and strategy.

I see the use of robots/automation doing something similar.  This will allow your more skills workers to focus more on work that requires their higher level of skill.  This allows you to do much more work per person, which will help to negate the huge amount of Baby boomers leaving the workplace.

With regards to caring for the boomers, technology can help in a few ways.  First, using home-based solutions to aid seniors will help to keep them out of more expensive facilities, keepings costs low.  As well, a robot may be of assistance in helping the seniors do some basic things around the house, such as cleaning and monitoring of vitals.  This may help to keep the number of field nurses / care workers down to a more manageable number.

The Bottom Line

There is always a natural tendency to fear the unknown.  The idea of robots taking over jobs hasn't been well received in many areas, namely because of a bad job done by management to use them as a tool to make people more productive, rather just to eliminate jobs.  We need to find ways to fill in for boomers as they leave, not keep all of our youth unemployed.  They understand technology and openly embrace it....have them work with it, not have it replace them.\n

Wealth inequality and the “Fourth Industrial revolution” are way too correlated

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In the past, I have tried to shy away from writing strictly warm and fuzzy pieces.  I mean, don't we have enough stories in the news about how cute cats and babies play together on Youtube?  As well, we need to address many of the issues that the Industrial Internet revolution may cause, if we want to have an easy time making the transition.

One of the overwhelming concerns about this new wave of technology, as well as with Artificial intelligence / Big Data / 3D printing is how it will make many jobs obsolete. This is far from the first time that technology has done so (do you know anyone who installs caps onto toothpaste containers like Charlie's dad in the Willy Wonka stories anymore), but it will definitely be the widest impact that we have ever seen.

The question is....what are we doing to prepare people for this change?

Well, at least the World Economic Forum is opening up the discussion.  The WEF has made this topic the focal point of its annual meeting which is happening now in Davos.  While I can't imagine that we will see any miraculous decisions made over wine and cheese, it is good to see the conversation starting...


 Training people for the right jobs of the future

I read an interesting story this morning about how people were still using antiquated methods of warming up their cars during cold winter mornings as it is "just the way we have always done it".  I suspect this is a similar thinking used in our model of education.

We need to start to move the focus towards training people in areas where there will definitely still be jobs 10-20 years from now.  An example is a Legal researcher, where the vast majority of jobs are moving towards automated solutions.  Do we need to graduate people into this type of position if we are certain that most jobs will be eliminated?

Instead, we need to take a play from one of my childhood heroes, Wayne Gretzky.  One of the main reasons for his success was not his physical size, but rather his ability to know where the play was going before any else did.  We need to start to move student's education towards areas such as Data Analysis, engineering/design and programming.

I was pleased by a recent announcement in British Columbia that said that going forward, all students as young as in Kindergarten will be exposed to computer programming.  This is only a small step, but we all need to start somewhere.

The Bottom Line

We need to stop feeling helpless in this situation and start to be more proactive.  We need to make sure that we have skills training programs in place before millions of people lose their jobs.  Just because we have always done something a certain way, it does not mean that we should do it that way in the future.  Starting kids young down this path will pay huge dividends for educational systems that "go where the puck is going to be before it gets there".

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CES – A show only Vegas could love…

CES 2016

 As a starter, I am not at CES this year.  I don't have anything against the show, I simply had a lot of travel in the early part of 2016 and this show was the "odd man out".  I have attended many times in the past, including the last four or five in a row, so I do speak of this show from experience. 

And, based on initial numbers, I may not be the only one who is not there.  It looks like traffic may be slightly lower this year, although this could be more related to the show's crackdown on passes than on actual interest. 

What always struck me about the show was the obvious link between the host city and the show.  Vegas is a place that offers something in a vacation that you don't get in most places....the chance to come home much richer than when you went there.  Sure, the odds of making "a killing" in Vegas are stacked against you (no pun intended), but it is possible.  I think the same holds true for many of the vendors at CES. 

It is a pretty safe bet that established companies will get some business from the show.  I am sure that FitBit's new toy will result in some sales, as will LG's new fridge.  However, these are established, publicly traded companies that won't be using this show as a method of raising money to stay alive or to vault the owners into a new tax bracket.  It is just an important show to show new products, but products that really could be launched at any time with solid success. 

However, for some start-up companies, this year's CES may be either the pinnacle event of their company's existence or the last chance before the company packs it in.  Many companies here are spending virtually their last dollar to get the attention of key people....the media (who may promote their product for free), key buyers (who may be willing to pre-pay for the next "big thing") and investors (who may offer money to keep their business going another day). 

This is kind of similar to Vegas for some... going there to risk some (or all) with the goal of coming home much richer than when they came.  Now, I am not trying to compare a company to a gambler, but in some ways, there are some peculiar similarities.  Both parties may be risking their financial future on the longshot that their "hand" makes them wealthy. 

The Bottom Line

Millions of dollars will be spent gambling, drinking and eating enough food to feed most African countries for all of 2016 this week in Vegas.  It will be a show that will shape the future for many in the world of electronics.  There will be winners and losers when the dust settles....good luck to everyone!

2016 predictions for the wild world of IoT

It is no secret that I am all about technology.  Aside from the fact that it has funded a very comfortable lifestyle for my family, I simply enjoy it.  While I don't love being on the bleeding edge, I do like trying things pretty early on.  Since I have passed 40 devices on my home router, it is fair to say that most things in my house are somewhat automated.

I went to the grocery store the other day and went to check out.  On days when it is busy, I generally use the self-checkout, as I usually only buy a few things at a time.  It wasn't very busy the other day, so I went to use the cashier's line.  She didn't notice I was there, as her iPhone was apparently more interesting.  After waiting 10 seconds for her to acknowledge me, I went over to the automated one.  She actually snapped at me, "You know that machine is going to take my job"...

It brings up a good point/counter-point....sure, eventually technology may take your job, but if your job can be taken by a machine, isn't that just part of progress?  Farm machinery took the jobs of millions of workers and we all just see that as progress.  Online banking has replaced tens of thousands of bank tellers and most of us don't think anything of it.  Perhaps it is just because we need to walk past the cashiers at a store (to use self-service) that we feel guilty.

Is automation progress or is it just the rich getting richer?

It is a good question.  As businesses try to increase their profits in a slow growth economy, it is inevitable that lowering down the cost of labour is a way to do it.  While no one likes to see anyone lose their job, I think most people understand the need to stay competitive.  However, the debate comes up as to how much is too much....does a company that makes 10B in profit need to make 11B by cutting tens of thousands of workers and replacing them with technology?

Studies have shown that US$20 is an important number.  If your salary is less than that per hour, there is an 83% chance that your job will be replaced by some form of automation.  If you make over US$40 per hour, that falls to under 5%.  The numbers make sense. Many of the roles in lower bracket incomes have some sort of routine and often a physical nature to them – they do things that software/robots can often be programmed to do. On the flip side, higher bracket jobs often require specialized training / skills that are tougher to duplicate.

Just because we can, does it mean that we should?

It is an interesting question.  We spend billions on things that make our life easier, but what is the social cost?  Do we have a responsibility to replace workers?  Well, in a world that was under control of one person, we could easily do that.  In that scenario, everyone would work and there would be no motivation to replace anyone.  However, that is not the world we live in.  Companies compete for capital and market share, so staying cost competitive is part of the reality of a capitalist society.  For some companies, using automation may mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

However, I think we need to improve transitions on those who are being outsourced, as well as offer training for future generations who will be filling in the roles that are not as likely to be automated.

The Bottom Line

As I have written before, IoT is part of the drive to bring information back to key systems, which is part of many automated solutions.  So, do I feel guilty?  Sure, I don't love the fact that my company may help to expedite some job losses. However, it is part of the gain of safety and other benefits that we bring.  One of the ways that workers can slow down the progress of being outsourced is to bring value to your role that is not easily provided by a machine or software package.  For example, put away the iPhone when customers are waiting. Don't give people reasons to WANT to use a machine.