Oregon Leadership Summit 2017: jobs and robots
The context of the 2017 Oregon Leadership Summit 2017 was how can Oregon flourish with the PERS elephant in the room?
The cost is set to swell and peak at almost $11 billion in 2035. Educators and politicians decried the fact that schools are laying off teachers despite being given more money by the legislature, which goes to paying public employee pensions. Everyone agreed that Oregonians aren't going to be ready for the high-tech future if educational markers like graduation rates lag behind other states.
Steve Brown, aka the Bald Futurist, brought the future into sharp focus by showing photos of leading edge technology that could very soon be part of everyday life.
From a flamethrower drone (used right now in China for bringing down faulty power cables) to driverless semi trucks, Brown threw up example after example in making his point.
There's RoboBee, a drone the weight of a paperclip. Another drone is strong enough for water skiing and can work as a lifeguard. Yet another, the Volocopter, carries four passengers. It is practically the long-awaited flying car. (It's self-driving.)
"Three years ago, I wouldn't have thought the flying car was coming soon, but this is different." Brown said the Volocopter has been tried out in Dubai and should be available in five years.
He showed off Sam 100, the bricklayer, which can lay 3,000 bricks a day, compared to a human's 500. (It still needs a human to fill its brick hopper and clean up after it.)
He showed off an electric cargo ship that loads and unloads its own containers. "Look out longshoremen," he said, only half joking. And there is a stock checker that wanders the shelves at a Walmart, scanning and noting gaps for restocking.
There was Flippy, a device for flipping burgers, which he said had caused many inquiries after the $15 minimum wage was introduced in Seattle. And there was Morley, a pair of white, robotic arms fixed above a stove which can be programmed to cook like Wolfgang Puck if given the right ingredients.
Starship Technology makes a series of Wall-E like robots that are dropped off by a truck and complete door-to-door delivery. Customers are interested because delivery costs just $1.
The forces behind this sudden lurch to the future? In 2012 the processing power arrived to make Artificial Intelligence feasible. As a former Intel man, Brown praised the chipsets that make it possible for a computer to use Backprop to distinguish a puppy from a cat. He said just as Graphics Processing Units have made the chunky look of Wolfenstein 3D of 1992 morph into the cinematic realism of 2017's Wolfenstein 2, so Neural Processing Units are coming to make AI cheaper and better.
The real value of AI is that humans can put it to use solving lots of problems.
In keeping with the presentation by economist John Tapogna later, he said that human attributes such as empathy, dexterity and communication would long be in demand. "Nurses will have more career longevity than doctors," he said, meaning bedside manner will be harder to replace than diagnostic thinking.
Brown predicted that blockchain would be behind a lot of new advances. Secure, dispersed databases, such as the one behind Bitcoin, would make keeping medical records and educational certificates much easier. And we're going to need it. As technology changes more rapidly, "We need lifelong learning. It's not going to be one degree, one career, any more."
Brown ended with a plea to "automate mindfully," suggesting that the bottom line approach of the fast food franchise might cause a backlash. He said that with 58 percent of people surveyed saying automation should be restricted, we have the making of "a Luddite Uprising 2.0," referring to 19th Century textile workers who opposed losing their jobs to machines.
He also asked the audience, many of them influential in business or policy making or both, "Please start to force this conversation" about making Oregon a center of excellence for automation but also to do it mindfully.
"In Oregon, we have an opportunity to reimagine everything: healthcare, agriculture, energy...We also need to ask ourselves, do we need to reimagine capitalism?"