Many of the big tech stories this fall have been about artificial intelligence and the rise of automation. Tesla and Google are working hard on their self-driving car technology. Trucking companies in turn are looking ahead to needing fewer drivers as their trucks become autonomous. Amazon is testing stores that do not require cashiers after already disrupting much of the retail sector. My local grocery store and hardware stores have self checkout lanes. Other industries like agriculture and medicine are increasingly automated. A fall issue of the Cal Poly magazine dedicated a series of articles to the subject "Machines Rising". Especially interesting was the article titled "How Safe is Your Job".
Eric Fisher, Cal Poly economic professor, looks at automations effect on the workforce and offers good questions and insights. As we look across the job sectors that will lose workers through automation the logical question is, "What will happen to the people who were doing these jobs?" This is nothing new and has been happening through the 19th and 20th centuries since the Industrial Revolution. Every new invention has come along and changed society has had a negative effect on some portion of the population. "One hundred years ago, roughly 90 percent of the American workforce was in agriculture, and now only about two percent of the American workers feed all people.", says Fisher. Automation in agriculture has brought about a massive increase in productivity. It would have been shocking to think about the displaced workers one hundred years ago but here we are. From farming to assembly lines, we can produce more with fewer workers and we have been forced to adapt to a more service-based economy.
Fisher goes on to say that the real changes have not yet been felt and that "the changes over the last 10 years are actually very minor compared with where we are going." We have been losing many middle class jobs for some time now and this will continue well into the future. Anything that can be written down and done in a step-by-step process is at risk of automation.
So what can we do about it? Which jobs are "safe" and will continue to be in demand? "The future will belong to people who can combine creative skills with technical skills." This is good news for the rising generation of students who are into creating with code and technology. Whether that creativity is artistic, scientific, mathematical, or anywhere in between, those who can combine those fields with technology will have a place in the workforce. We always like to point out that almost any industry you can think of needs people with these skills. The old way of doing things be less relevant over time and each industry needs fresh ideas and talent to move it forward. At Start Code we always ask our students what can you do beyond the lesson? How can you change it and make it your own? This is where we also differ from automated coding websites. As soon as a student wanders from the script and wants to do something different or simply ask "why?" then the automated lesson fails. Hopefully the exposure to technology that students get in our coding classes and summer camps will help them see their own unique future path whether it's local to Atlanta or beyond.