Adam.O, Online English Teacher at Acadsoc.
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Technologies have been boomingly developed in the past 100 years, from steam train to electric-based high-speed rail, from the phonograph, tape, VCD/DVD to now internet-based video and audio…Our ancestors back then could never imagine the technologies today. Current workers may accept more training and acquire different skills compared with their peers in the 1920s, but the human race itself seems to ‘freeze’ in developing. We failed to see a breakthrough in key indicators of human including creativity, brain capacity, IQ, etc. while some indexes such as eyesight and physical health of new generation are worse than those of the previous generation.
The 4th industrial revolution is just ahead, after Japan, the US, EU, Germany, and China claimed their plan and ambitions of more automation in manufacture industry. Unlike the previous three industrial revolutions, this time it will eliminate many jobs and positions instead of creating more opportunities for human beings.
For manufacture workers, as Erick discussed, from 2000-2010 in North America, most of their jobs were stolen by robots, not international trade. Robots are safer, more productive, more reliable and cost less than human workers. In a 2015 survey conducted by Pew Research Center, roughly 2/3 of Americans adults admitted their jobs will be taken by robots in 50 years. Humans have already lost in round 1 competition against robots while our flesh and blood is entirely no match for metal and computer in producing goods
Regarding the ability to think and innovate, our status is now being challenged by AI. Alphago defeated Lee Sedol, artificial intelligence succeeded in challenging one of the best human chess players with an overwhelming victory. ‘Sophia the Robot’, is another superstar in artificial intelligence. She, not It(Suadi Arabia awarded Sophia a citizenship), has taken many interviews and made public speeches worldwide. In 2017, CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed Sophia and brought up his worry that machines could turn against human. Sophia said that Sorkin had been “reading too much Elon Musk”. AI is getting closer to human-they may independently study, think, express different emotions and even innovate very soon. Are we going to lose in round 2 as well?
Evolving or Degenerating? Progressing or Pulling Back?
Technically speaking, human beings never stop changing to adjust the change in environment. But what kinds of change should be regarded as evolution? For biologists, evolution and degeneration always arise concurrently. I.e. our wisdom teeth are getting smaller, useless and disappearing in new generations. Our ancestors have larger jaws to help them chew tougher food such as nuts and tore meat apart with their teeth. But nowadays, thanks to development in cookery and refined diet, human race no longer needs so many teeth. It can be considered as degeneration (part of our body is getting functionless) and evolution at the same time (we are adjusting to the food and environment nowadays).
In productivity, we are both evolving and degenerating since the first industrial revolution. Our productivity boosted up with the assistance of new invention and technology. Human labors can create far more value for business owners in the same period with mechanical support instead of purely manual working. However, workers are degenerating at the same time. Human beings rely heavier on technology and have given up many skills-handwriting, communication with strangers and adjust our mental health. In 2012, a UK-based printing and mailing company, Docmail conducted a study and found that 33% of attendees had difficulties reading their own handwriting. Should this be taken as a progress or pull back of human? We are adjusting ourselves to the current work field-write by keyboards, answer others’ inquiry via phone and read a message through computer screens, while we are losing the ability to use old-school tools, pens, and pencils to express our ideas.
A possibility is, not human beings but the environment is ‘degenerating’. No matter what kind of swiftness we are being through, they are all response to the change in external environment. Please note, the external environment nowadays doesn’t mean ‘nature’ anymore but a man-made world. As a researcher put in his journal, our ancestors could die of a small mistake in collecting food or building a shelter in the stone age while ‘a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate.’ We no longer have to face a strong pressure of survival and surrounded by hostile creatures. Even if one is unskilled or disabled since birth, which can be deadly in the past, can easily survive in a modern society with the aid of social welfare system.