What does the future of jobs look like?
I found out unexpectedly this weekend when I took my kids to the Lego exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago.
There is a contest where kids are broken into teams on a stage. A challenge is chosen from a set of cards and the kids have 3.5 minutes to build a solution. The challenge chosen was “learning about underwater life”.
A scant 210 seconds later the teams unveiled their creations. One team created a research vessel to do research on sea creatures (see picture below).
The host seemed a little confused by its shape, thinking perhaps that they forgot to add controls or a bubble for the driver. “So, I’m not totally clear … is there a person inside this?”
“No people inside, it’s a robot.”
There you have the next generation of inventors. And I’m excited about it. They are taking a blue sky (well, blue sea) approach to problem solving. And they naturally have a “robots first” mindset.
“But isn’t this the callous mindset that puts people out of work?” I can hear you thinking. Not at all. Keep in mind these 10 year old kids probably don’t know the current state of manned or robotic undersea research vehicles – it’s a clean slate to them. I’m interested in the approach, not the invention itself. Given a clean slate they aren’t replacing existing human jobs with robots. Rather than designing for direct human involvement followed by automation of the result, the next generation starts with robots from the first step.
Humans won’t get replaced by robots since they didn’t have the job in the first place in this scenario. If the device was designed for human drivers inside the device I can’t imagine there would a significant number of jobs created for oceanographers. But with the robotic approach, new jobs are created building and remotely operating a large robot fleet that didn’t exist before.
It turns out that at the next museum up Lake Shore Drive, the Shedd Aquarium, is an Underwater Robotics Program for 6th-12th grade students to create an underwater ROV. Watch the video on this site to see how easily the next generation takes to robots. Automating the physical world is easier to understand. Once these kids get into the working world and better understand knowledge work, I hope they apply this mindset to the automation of mental and analytical tasks as well.
Their approach of creating robots that work for humans to expand our capabilities – so often lost in talk about replacing humans – is the key to a more productive future of work. And someone get those kids an OpenRov for Christmas!
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