Here’s an optimistic TED talk on yesterday’s topic (thanks Tom!).
I think the most important scientific issues of our times are climate change, energy sufficiency, and environmental pollution, but I believe that these will be solved by technology within my lifetime.
Recently, I have been reading a lot about a problem that will be caused by technological advances.
I read two books: Race Against the Machine ($3.99 on Kindle) and The Lights in the Tunnel ($3.95 on Kindle). They are both incredibly thought-provoking, and tell the same story: we are approaching a future without jobs.
Technological advances are resulting in more and more jobs being automated. Looking around me here in Japan I have seen petrol stations (self-service), restaurants (order from a touch panel) and supermarkets (self-checkout) directly replace workers with machines.
Amazon has replaced countless shops, and is in the process of automating their warehouses.
The latest thing in education is Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), allowing one teacher to deliver content to tens of thousands of students.
Foxconn, the company that assembles iPhones in China, is currently replacing it’s workers with robots.
Google’s driverless cars will eliminate taxi drivers, delivery drivers, and eventually driving schools, traffic police, and even street signs.
Increasingly sophisticated computer hardware and software will replace legal researchers, translators, middle managers, medical technicians, surgeons, and other knowledge workers.
So, as technology continues to improve at exponential rates, and human workers for jobs at both the blue- and white-collar levels continue to become surplus to requirements, what are people going to do? Are we going to have societies where 60%+ of the population are on welfare?
I think I’m probably going to be okay, as I work in a public university in Japan (possibly one of the last sectors to face automation). Even so, I would be surprised if my job still existed in 15 years time.
One possible positive to come out of this is that Japan’s extreme demographics may turn out to be a blessing. When there is no need for a workforce, and unemployed people are a drag on society, a falling population could become an advantage.
Am I overreacting? This seems like the issue of our times, as it is going to result in huge changes to our social and economic systems, but it doesn’t seem to be part of public discourse.
I look forward to your comments 🙂
I attended a very comprehensive workshop on the TOEFL test yesterday, conducted by Ron Campbell and organized by MEESA (Miyagi English Education Support Association).
I came away with a much better idea of what the TOEFL iBT is, and what it isn’t. I had been under the impression that it was an adaptive test (ie the questions changed based on whether you got the previous question right or wrong) but this is not the case.
Apparently the TOEFL will be part of the civil service examinations from 2015, which is very interesting.
I also learned that the government is planning to make all public school English teachers take the TOEFL. I think this is a good idea, as it will hopefully motivate less proficient teachers to work on their language skills. I have always been surprised at how little time and effort many English teachers put into their own language study. This is a big contrast to the language teachers I know in the UK.
However, after learning about the structure of the test and doing some practice exercises, I am more convinced than ever that using the test in its current form to test all high school students is an awful idea. It is simply way too hard and focuses on academic English, an area most students who are not planning to study abroad do not need to prioritize.
I am planning to take the TOEFL myself at some point in order to understand it better, but the very high cost is a stumbling block.
Seth Godin’s TED talk on education is really interesting.
Very similar to Ken Robinson’s talks, eh?
If you like his style check this one out: this is broken.
Saw this article in the Asahi newspaper online yesterday. Basically, the government is leaning towards making English an official subject (it isn’t one at the moment, just an extra set of activities), which would mean more classes, and lowering the age at which students start learning English.
Great. This is yet another good idea that is going to be executed horribly.
You know that Japan’s English teachers are on the whole undertrained and not proficient in English (only 20% of JHS and 35% of SHS English teachers have reasonable English qualifications).
I think there should be English classes in elementary school, but they need to be well-planned and implemented by teachers who know how to teach and are proficient in English. Sadly I don’t think we’re going to see either of those…
Am I being too pessimistic?