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Automation and labor; a path to sustainability

Parts 1 and 2 of this post discussed trends in the displacement of human labor by technology, particularly recent advances in machine learning.  This part makes proposals about what may be broken in our system of employment, and how we might find sustainable roles for labor in the midst of disruptive technological advances.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I will weigh in favor of education.  However, the education that I propose involves not 'going back to school' in formal terms, but a weaving together of ongoing professional development with work-for-pay.  In addition, I wish to propose a set of technologies that can be turned back onto boosting the skills of the labor force through cognitive development that goes beyond simple job training.

So what's wrong with employment?  Our collective mistake has perhaps been to separate education and employment too thoroughly, at least in some jobs. In the simplest model, one pays to receive an education, but one is paid to be employed. This creates a rift between today's labor and tomorrow's opportunities that comes to roost when any particular skill becomes obsolete. 

My job as scientist requires constant re-education, and not at my expense or on my own time.  I am paid to always adapt and grow.  The global economy needs to adapt to this view of how value is created if we are to cease painfully displacing large numbers of workers.

Some of the same technology that is rendering certain work roles obsolete can be harnessed to drive cognitive development in our workforce, and sustain their marketability.  Intelligent tutoring software holds great promise for measuring and advancing cognitive skills in human subjects. 

What are the ingredients?  Machine learning will underpin a wide set of interactive functions including anthropomorphic interfaces (a character that you can interact with), 'serious game' environments in which you learn to solve problems and experience emotional engagement, the use of storytelling and narrative, and sensorimotor interaction, to name a few.  I will discuss the prospects for such 'cognitive enhancement' in future posts.

The author's affiliation with The MITRE Corporation is provided for identification purposes only, and is not intended to convey or imply MITRE's concurrence with, or support for, the positions, opinions, or viewpoints expressed by the author.

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