A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on the coming era of the Industrial Internet. This is a fascinating topic with profound implications for manufacturing, the network and employment. It’s the latter that I’ve been thinking about this morning, specifically, how does an even more automated and connected manufacturing process impact on the size of our global workforce.
I read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review recently that suggested manufacturing jobs will continue to diminish as machines become increasingly intelligent and able to communicate on a mass scale. Figures seem to confirm this. Between 1995 and 2002, 22 million manufacturing jobs were lost on a global scale. 16 million of these jobs were in China. What’s amazing is that industrial output during this period soared by 30%.
Some economists believe that unless we start to rapidly innovate and actually race with the machines that we’ll soon see the world economy shrink back to the flat growth rates of those prior to the Industrial Revolution. In other words, an annual growth rate of 0.2%. Only this week at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California, economist, Robert Gordon, stated that we have several significant problems to overcome if we’re to see any growth. These are: an aging population, critical higher education issues, an enormous debt and economic inequality.
The key question is can we drive enough technology innovation to overcome these issues and reverse our declining growth rate?
Enter Erik Brynjolfsson.
Brynjolfsson is the director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and a firm believer in what he refers to as the new machine age. Brynjolfsson suggests that we’re in a transition period. A period where we haven’t yet fully realized the true value of the Industrial Internet. Brynjolfsson is quick to highlight that the same thing happened with the Second Industrial Revolution. It took some time for the old ways to be abandoned before productivity could soar.
Is this where we are now? Is everybody embracing new technologies and new ways of doing things or are people clinging to established and traditional methods?
Brynjolfsson states that the machine age isn’t just about intelligent machines driving mass productivity though, it’s about developing ideas and sharing knowledge. No amount of computing power can ever replace the human brain and by drawing upon new technology and networking capabilities we may be able to advance upon the scientific breakthroughs of 19th and 20th century. What’s key is collaboration and this involves collaboration on a human and a machine level.
It’s this notion of a coming age of heightened connectivity and idea sharing that fascinates me. Yes, there is a genuine concern that the Industrial Internet will impact upon employment, but at the same time there’s the tantalizing prospect of increased innovation. What’s key is that we educate people. Ensure that tomorrow’s generations have the tools to excel in a new era of ideas. We only need to consider the opportunities presented by Big Data and the current scarcity of data scientists to see this point in action.
Do you believe that the machine age is upon? Will the Industrial Internet usher in a new era of productivity? Can we innovate fast enough? Let me know what you think.