There is nothing like the perfect storm of a pandemic and a Brexit to make one reassess many things, not least of which, since enforced home-working has become part of so many workplaces, is the world of employment.
Around 18 months ago, I heard Dainel Susskind, co-author of A World Without Work (2020), speak at the GDST summit. I have since heard him ‘in conversation’ at the How To Academy and purchased the aforementioned book. The premise of his book is that, whilst there have been fears of a dystopian future where machines take over the world ever since the industrial revolution, it is here and now that technology has developed to a stage where this really is a possibility. Or at least, it is highly possible that a range of professions could be fundamentally and irrevocably changed by developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In my opinion, Susskind makes a compelling case for a world without work; after all there are already algorithms in use that can determine whether a person in court is guilty, with 90% accuracy, which is significantly higher than the average human who manages 54% accuracy.
Schwab (2017) calls this age ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’. In short, this suggests that we have moved well beyond the first Industrial Revolution where machinery, operated by humans, made manufacturing and production lines quicker and more efficient to a time when AI can simply complete jobs without human interaction. Of course, this is not entirely true, since someone has to program the machine to perform tasks in the first place, and machine learning is still a developing concept.
Depending on your opinion about technology and the workplace of the 21st century, the idea of a world without work could be a blessing or a concern. What is unarguable is that when when we tell our students that we are preparing them for jobs that have not even been created, we should not underestimate the uncertainty that concept could invoke. What is the point in studying to be a doctor when robots can be programmed with astonishing accuracy to carry out surgery and can work for longer even than a junior doctor. Or when systems such as NHS 111 and online diagnosis services use intelligent systems to make a relatively accurate diagnosis of simple conditions. Teaching, legal professions, design, architecture, engineering, surveying are just a few of the many professions where AI is increasingly able to replace a significant proportion of the work involved.
My personal take on this is not that our children face a future world without employment or even without work in the aforementioned professions, but that the skill set needed and the work undertaken will be different; it will be work that only humans can carry out. The comfort that students can take in this less certain future, is that the world of secondary education is opening its heart and mind to the importance of developing skills rather than merely covering content. If an adult knows how to collaborate efficiently with colleagues, make efficient use of workplace technology, solve problems, think strategically and develop agile working practices, they will undoubtedly be well placed to be the future leaders as well as the future professionals.
Deputy Head Pastoral
SUSSKIND, Daniel (2020) A world without work. London: Allen Lane
SCHWAB, Klaus (2017) The Fourth Industrial Revolution. London: Penguin Random House