Design, Engineering Education, Lean Construction, Technological change, Technology Driven Change, Uncategorized

“From here on in, it’s really, really going to change, and it’s going to change faster than we can handle.”

September 21, 2015

A request—As you read this Post, please understand I am drawing from a number of sources all noted in the text. To the degree that you find the information of use, please go to those sources as the authors have written in depth and their conclusions are more nuanced and complete then I can portray here. I can share that we are all fortunate to have the variety and number of very bright minds focused on this amazing topic at this amazing time!

The following headlines and articles are both exciting and unsettling:

“ A Report Suggests Nearly Half of US Jobs are Vulnerable to Computerization”— from an article in MIT Technology Review which relies on research at Oxford’s Martin School and MIT’s own analysis— and the rub is that the change will take place in the next 20 years.

“5 White-collar jobs robots already have taken”— an article in Fortune, earlier this year noting that Financial and Sports Reporters; Online Marketers; Anesthesiologists, Surgeons and Diagnosticians; E-Discovery Lawyers and Law Firm Associates; and Financial Analysts and Advisors; are all facing significant changes in the types and numbers of jobs that are available and the changes are not positive. One quote in this article was perhaps the most revealing;

“I don’t think we have a good handle on this”, said MIT Researcher Matt Beane ( “The end game scenarios seem kind of severe. From here on in, it’s really, really going to change, and it’s going to change faster than we can handle.”

MIT Technology Review, September/October edition is devoted to 35 Innovators Under 35, and discusses their research, their companies and their conclusions. As you can imagine, technology plays a major role in the innovations, and the topics these innovators are addressing include robotics and their real world applications; deep learning and the speeding up and greater depth of machine intelligence; using technology for better health care which includes robots helping people with their medications; improved photo energy harvesting and many more, similar stories about the people who are leading this massive technological shift.

Several of the best articles can be found in the June issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) which focuses on “Man and Machine— Knowledge Work in the Age of the Algorithm”. They do an excellent job of teasing out the good and bad in the change that is underway. For the first time I have begun to understand some of the fundamentals of the changes. Specifically:

1- There will continue to be winners and losers as these changes move through our economy.

2- Productivity will continue to rise, but median incomes will remain stagnant and even fall.

3- For the first time in our history, economic abundance will continue to grow but job prospects for the typical workers will continue to falter. The middle class will continue to erode.

4- The areas of endeavor that will offer the best opportunities will be:
– High-end creativity, like new business ideas;
– Emotion, interpersonal relations, caring, nurturing, coaching, motivating— are all areas which use our skills (honed over millions of years of evolution) in understanding others.
– Dexterity, mobility— skills that are very difficult for robots, but go to the essence of being human;

Perhaps the most important thing that I gained is a better sense of where to focus to take maximum advantage of the changing, digital economy. Those areas of focus include:

1-Education– Our schools must be focusing on skills that are relevant and valuable. Areas where computers fall short, i.e.; Creativity, problem solving, team building.

2- Infrastructure- We must have world class roads, airports and networks if we are going to take maximum advantage of the technological changes ahead.

3- We need more entrepreneurs. Young, fast-growing companies are the best source of jobs. We know the new companies are forming, but we must encourage and support these amazing entrepreneurs.

4- Immigration—“many of the world’s most talented people come to America to build lives and careers”. Our current immigration system is a mess— and we have to send a message to those that can fix it.

5- Basic Research– So much of our technological growth had it’s genesis in a Government funded Basic Research program. DARPA was the parent of the Internet; NASA— a whole host of innovations that are in daily use from lightweight materials to computational speed; NREL— unique break throughs in energy. But the Federal Government is eliminating many basic research opportunities. Again, we have to send a message to those that can fix it.

Lastly— I strongly recommend the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Beyond Automation— Strategies for remaining gainfully employed in an era of very smart machines” in the June 2015 HBR. It is more than a “how to” kind of guide. It is a great help in understanding where technology and human capability can combine to move us all to a higher level.

Conclusions —-well, conclusions are hard to come by as we are moving into the 20 most interesting years I think we may all experience. The changes for good and bad will be profound, they will impact us all, and they will require we all participate and help as we move forward. I will leave you with two quotes from the respective sources that moved me the most:

“ The idea that half of today’s jobs may vanish has changed my view of my children’s future.”


“What new feats might people achieve if they had better thinking machines to assist them?”

Thanks for reading this post. It is all still a work in progress.

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