Technology and the ways we use it is set to disrupt society and business in dramatic ways. So, what can we do today to mitigate the risks of tomorrow?
Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells and Alexandra Whittington of Fast Future believe there are five actions governments should take now to prepare for the technological disruptions of the next twenty years:
Rethink education at every level
Success in the future will require a smart, adaptable and highly educated workforce. Indeed, many commentators and some governments anticipate that within a decade, most new jobs will require a graduate level of education as a minimum. How that is acquired may well look very different to today.
To survive and thrive we all need to understand both the technologies and the mindsets shaping the future. There are lots of technological competitors to Uber and AirBnB. For the latter, their true point of difference is their mindset – a radically different way of thinking about how you deliver on customer desires without owning any assets or employing any of the service delivery staff. We also need to help people develop higher level skills that will help them learn rapidly and transition into jobs that don’t even exist today. These include collaboration, problem solving, navigating complexity, scenario thinking, and accelerated learning.
There needs to be a massive increase in the provision of free adult education. We also need to reduce pupil-teacher ratios at school level – the evidence is clear on the impact. This also means looking at the charges imposed on students pursuing higher education – we need a well-educated workforce to propel the country forward – not on that is demotivated, disillusioned and saddled with debt.
Experiment with guaranteed basic incomes and services
The firms doing the job automation need customers to buy their goods and services. Hence, we see many in Silicon Valley arguing for some form of automation tax to fund the provision of universal guaranteed basic incomes (UBI) and services (UBS) to everyone in society. Some governments refuse to countenance the idea but others are recognising that something needs to be done to avoid large scale social decline and potential citizen unrest. Hence many countries including Finland, Germany and Canada are undertaking UBI experiments to understand the concept, assess the social impact, measure the costs and prepare themselves while they still have time.
Expand support for start-up creation
People will inevitably have to take more control of their own destiny. One way is to create their own job or small business that is far more immune to risks of technology replacing humans. A massive expansion of support for start-up creation would both generate jobs for the mentors and accelerate the rate at which people can build new businesses and create new jobs.
Research and development in key knowledge sectors
A competitive economy demands cutting edge innovation. A safe society requires research and development on the materials and processes that will enable that. Not all R&D lends itself to assessment based on the return on investment – some just has to be undertaken for the betterment of society. Hence, expanding research funding and the number of places is an important enabler of tomorrow’s job creation.
Address the inevitable mental health challenge
Across society, the scale and severity of mental health issues is rising. Large scale job displacement will only increase that. An enlightened approach would be to fund people to train as therapists while still working today so that they will be ready to help when the challenge becomes a major problem in 2-4 years’ time.
There’s clearly a financial implication associated with enabling all these activities, but we have to ask ourselves what the risks and potential costs of inaction might be. A short term saving today could lead to a very long-term increase in the cost of funding unemployment benefits and policing a society that feels let down.