If we can sum up digital technology, innovation and disruption in one sentence then this will be Heraclitus’ old time truth that “The only constant in life is change”. Digital technology became so pervasive, smart, and fast evolving that by the time you read this sentence probably there has been a new idea put into place or invention somewhere around the world.
The pace of innovation and technological advancement is so fast that we cannot fully grasp what is coming next. No one can claim to know where technologies will be in ten or twenty years, we can only speculate. Yet this is not something new – who knew for instance 10 years ago what a social media manager would be, or data scientist. What is constant though is that the ever-changing digital world will significantly affect our lives as it is already doing today.
Let us take automation as an example. Automation is the new reality in the workplace and in the forthcoming years, we will observe an even growing interaction between humans and machines. While previously, advances in automation have been focused on particular industries like manufacturing, the new wave has broaden its scope and influences all sectors.
It is alarming that 72% of the people in the EU fear that robots may take their jobs. We must stop the fear-mongering narrative people vs robots. A large research carried out by Deloitte shows that for the past 140 years – automation, robots and technology have created more jobs than they have destroyed. Historically, the economy has consistently found space in higher skill, creative work as it eliminated routine work through automation. About 10% of jobs we know today will disappear, but the real challenge is that at least a third of them will change due to digital technology. Adaptation will be mandatory and Education (with capital E) is key.
In the years to come we will be moving towards more human-centred jobs – jobs we cannot name now but such that will be focused on the skills and talents one has. We will have more time to do what we enjoy and perform more interesting and intellectually challenging tasks rather than the boring repetitive ones. It cannot be denied that machines and robots complete occurring actions more accurately and faster than humans, thus being their biggest advantage, but machines cannot take over tasks requiring creativity or problem-solving skills. Machines do not feel emotions, they do not dream. And innovations, such as these robots themselves, come from peoples’ dreams and imagination which makes people irreplaceable.
This tendency though comes with a major shift in the type of skills needed. As per McKinsey research, technological, cognitive and new interpersonal skills will form half of work activities by 2030. Still as per EPRS’s study the demand in Europe by 2020 points to a gap in the supply of e-skills of about 900 000 people. Such statistics call for improvement in the education system. Investment in human capital means providing citizens with the opportunity to acquire more technical, social and creative skills. Interactive teaching methods, making use of data analytics and identifying the learning patterns of students could play a crucial role in the new age education system. I agree with the Harvard Business Publishing that the so-called “learnability” is one of the skills we need to start teaching right now, because the specific competencies that make someone successful in a certain role today, might not be sufficient tomorrow. Learnability provides the answer for a life-long learning that does not feel imposed out of necessity, rather sought for.
If anything, learnability will be the remedy to unleash and tame at the same time disruptive innovation. The technological revolution moved from the internet being only a passive collector of information to a non-exhaustive source of data for AI. Self-driving cars and chatbots like Siri and Alexa already provide customer-tailored services thus offering more personalised experience. In the near future AI will be even more at the centre of the public debate. AI will not only learn and complement human intelligence but that it will totally depart from it. Lawmakers need to recognise in their economic and legislative actions the impact of AI as soon we will be facing common public concerns over robots’ citizenship, their rights and responsibilities (already risen by people in this area of competencies). Progressive thinking is needed now so Europe sets the global standards on AI with a regulatory framework where data protection, competition and innovations are enhanced while safety is still guaranteed.
The reality we live in is that digitalisation should become a state of mind. Sometimes, politics is a too slow-paced to make a difference for the challenges we face today. Politicians and public administrations need to become more of project-managers with strategic objectives and a greater goal, and to work in networks with business, NGOs sector and citizens in order to equip citizens with the much needed digital skills and to build a legislative framework which will allow us to fully embrace the new technological revolution. Failing to do this will leave us as mere spectators of a completely new world unfolding before us.