I’ve been attending the Mobile World Congress (MWC) for quite a long time, even before it was relocated from Cannes (France) to Barcelona (Spain). I can easily write up something about the show specifics and focus on any of its particular aspects as the borderline between what is mobile ‘per se,’ and what is not, has become a bit fuzzy. However, for that type of blog, you don’t need me as there were thousands of those just last week. I chose to write about something a bit different.
Upon our arrival to the Fira Gran Via (where the MWC 2018 show is located), a hasty taxi driver dropped us on the opposite sidewalk. It was a cold and rainy day, the streets were wet and overwhelmed by the attack of thousands of pedestrians and cars. In the middle of this chaos was the police force, desperately trying to monitor and control the situation. After reaching a nearby crosswalk, the policeman in charge urged us to cross over, while hailing at the cars to stop. From afar I could see a small vehicle, which was heading towards our direction, and was about to break the sound barrier (this wasn’t an official attraction of the show). The policeman also noticed the upcoming disaster, and positioned himself between us and the car, acting as a human buffer. He waived his hands tensely, and miraculously the car stopped a couple of inches in front of the police officer, who didn’t seem to be very bothered by what had just happened. He started to talk with the driver, and as one of my colleagues translated to me, he was educating the driver, calmly and politely, about the situation. ‘It is a rainy day,’ ‘many people crossing,’ ‘slippery roads,’ ‘being careful,’ were all part of his teachings. We didn’t hear all of it as we were part of the human flux encouraging us to complete our crossing. But this incident was etched in my brain cells for quite a while, and apparently (as I initially thought) with no obvious reason.
The ‘reason,’ came to me later that day. All it took was an afternoon visit to the booth of one of the world’s largest mobile operators, which was exhibiting a demo of a miniaturized car assembly line, all handled by what seemed like a single-handed robot. ‘Artificial Intelligence’ crossed my mind, and the crosswalk morning incident was revived again.
I’m often asked about how AI will affect our society, especially from the employment perspective. The morning episode indirectly emphasized the future we are heading to. With autonomous cars just around the corner, the likelihood of me or you encountering the crosswalk incident will be incredibly low. The polite and enlightening conversation the police officer had with the driver would also be absent from this scene, and in fact, the need for dedicated workforce for traffic control will be at risk. Hence, an unemployment possibility is on the horizon. This is not an isolated occurrence. Every industry has such a story in which intelligent automation, AI or something similar, may directly affect job positions or even the profession itself. So, does this mean that ‘AI is coming’ equals ‘Winter is coming?’ Not necessarily.
Various market analysis articles tell us that the number of ‘new’ job positions and opportunities the AI era will offer will effectively cancel out all of the ‘lost’ jobs automation that AI will take out. Nevertheless, we should ‘mind the gap.’ As a society, we bear the responsibility to minimize the gap period between the time pre-era jobs are lost and new jobs are created. It is not only about current workers. It is about our kids who are still in school, and their current education programs that should dictate their readiness for the new wave of AI. Some countries emphasize the importance of math and science-based education. Yet, not all people (and children) are alike. For example, many of the professions needed by the ‘internet-era’ did not require a PhD in Mathematics, but instead relied on creativity. Preparation for an AI-age does not necessarily require close encounters of the 3rd kind with neural networks. When computers first entered schools, some education programs called for teaching students to program from an early age. Although this has its advantages, it was eventually revealed that as most computer-based usage does not require focus on software design, the emphasis was shifted towards the applications (e.g., Office, Photoshop, AutoCAD). We can go on and on. The common theme is being properly prepared and acknowledging the change as soon as possible.
There is still some good news, at least by judging what happened during my afternoon visit to the single arm robot demo. My friend, who accompanied me through this demo, took away the miniaturized car chassis that the robot just put in line. The ‘smart’ robot, which was unaware of the doings of my mischief-maker, continued the ‘assembly’ process. Yet with no chassis in place, all the other objects and modules put on top became misaligned and fell apart. This of course turned into a small catastrophic incident.
So, what is the good news? There is still time to prepare.
But please, do me a favor – denial of an upcoming innovation wave and nourishing the hopes that it will just ‘go away’ will only make us susceptible to the negative effects of the inevitable transformation. Don’t be the Grasshopper. Be prepared. Be the Ant.
By Jay Klein – CTO, Voyager Labs