Ready For Change ?

There was a very good article in the Telegraph by William Hague in which he points to the promises that Theresa May has said with regard to her Government being one for “everybody and not just the privileged few”, He then raises the key question about whether she is ready for the huge economic changes that are about to engulf us.

Whilst I may not agree with everything he wrote or his motives for writing it, I do find it heartening to see an “establishment” figure finally pointing to the real problem that confronts the whole of our world.

Banging On

Whilst I am quite content with the outcome of the EU Referendum, there are very many in the muddle classes and the Media Mafia, who keep banging on about Brexit and that by implication, that those who voted for it were in some way ignorant, knuckle scraping, bigoted old people who should never have been allowed a vote in the first place. What these people fail to grasp that even if many who did vote for Brexit voted on gut instinct alone, that doesn’t mean that they were wrong in doing so indeed, events may prove them totally correct providing the situation is handled properly with no compromises on fundamental principles.

Let us say that the primary reason for the majority in voting for Brexit was a desire to stop uncontrolled immigration, does this make them xenophobic ? The answer to that is No and there is plenty of evidence to back that up. The majority of the UK population lives in England, well over 80% so this is where immigration has its greatest impact on local facilities and services when communities are faced with a sudden influx of migrants. Also for immigrants, the sweet spots where opportunities are in the greatest abundance for them are in England and especially the London area.

The point is that it is in England where the impact of waves of unchecked immigration are felt most but that doesn’t mean that the majority of the English are xenophobic just that they are more in the firing line. However Brexit is neither the biggest problem that we face, nor is it by itself any kind of solution, it is however a very big opportunity to face and deal with the economic and social problems that are about to engulf us all.

Global Changes and Delusions

The truth is that the global economy has not really recovered from the economic turmoil of 2008 and part of the reason for that lies in the fact that ‘globalisation’ has been far too successful in that it takes ever fewer people to produce higher quality manufactured goods today than at any time in history. However there is one other unique factor in the historical sense in that we have been/are still going through a digital revolution in global communications that has had a major impact on communities right across the globe and not always in a positive sense.

It was said that the Vietnam War was the first war fought in the living rooms on TV in front of the American public, it was a devastating stream of images that totally changed the perspectives of the “folks back home”. No longer would the public both in the US and right across the world accept the word of their political masters about what was happening and how things were going, the imagery totally undermined the ‘establishment’.

In a similar way, the Internet has bought the imagery of a “good life” to people right across the globe and with it a demand for all those things “at home” failing which, people will engage in perilous migrations for both them and their families to get them. Some migrants are genuinely escaping persecution but the majority are as throughout history, economic migrants. It is quite noticeable that the one common factor in the masses of humanity streaming across Europe’s borders is that they are all clutching smartphones as an essential communications device. The pity of it all though is that they are not going to a place or even a lifestyle that most could fit in with and therefore for most their ‘dreams’ will remain just that or turn into bitter disillusionment.

To understand this better we need to look at the UK’s experiences of immigration where apart from East African Asians during the time of Idi Amin in the 1970s has been wholly driven by UK economic needs for people to do work the locals wouldn’t or and to this day, because of the need for skills the locals don’t possess. Of the net +300,000 immigrants per year the UK currently sees, only 50% come from the EU, it is said. Whatever is said by the EU on their 4 essential principals of the freedom of movement of goods, capital, services and people, the unconstrained freedom of movement for people is going to be the first to suffer, it is I’m afraid inevitable in the immediate future.

The reasons for this being so are simply that the sheer scale and scope of the economic changes that will be required will be difficult enough to manage peacefully on a national basis but totally impossible on a pan national one, the EU even after 50 years is nowhere integrated enough to even attempt that least of all whilst dealing with a flood of totally ‘alien’ in terms of outlook, refugees.

The Terminator

Hollywood and SiFi fiction writers have often portrayed a future where robots not only are common place but then turn on mankind and become predators. Even in recent debates there have been many warnings about AI (artificial intelligence) and how that will produce “entities” that are far superior intellectually to human beings and therefore, where will that lead us ? However back here in the real world the real issues are far more mundane and boring but can also veer from the frightening to the downright hilarious.

The real threat currently to personal wealth likely comes from computer trading systems that have been given far too much autonomy because they can react to slight movements in market prices quicker than a person. However as the trading programs that do this have at their core algorithms (sequences or recipes), how do we know that they are always right and how do we know that their range of possible ‘actions’ have been fully and properly tested ? Imagine a global slump caused by a few lines of poorly written code !

I read all my news on the web and it is very noticeable that apart from Lord knows how many tracking programs are in play to ‘prove the value’ to advertisers which is reducing the Internet to a crawl, a lot of sites as using software tools to “aggregate” news headlines with often, hilarious results as words not picked up by the programs in use, totally change the meaning. It is not the case that we are in danger from aggressive robots running AI programs, it is more a case of “cock ups” caused by our own ignorance and an attitude that it is all somehow, “somebody else’s job” to understand and fix any problems that arise.

Education and Training

The idea that children should be exposed at a fun level from an early age, to simple concepts of computer programming is a good idea, the idea though that “Programming is the grammar of the new age and all children must master it” is totally wrong and just repeats the mistakes of the past. Our weakest link lies in our education systems a situation made worse by the “everyone gets prizes” ideas that prevail which has produced a humongous system where most children do not get properly assessed and streamed to not just play to their natural strengths as individuals but also develop them fully as people.

In moving forward and to tackle the problems that we will face, Education and access to Lifetime Training/Retraining programs will be the key and where taxpayer resources should be concentrated in order to create greatest value for society at large. The world of work has and will continue to change in the decades ahead and often in unexpected ways, we cannot stop that but we can prepare both ourselves and society at large for the volatility that will involve.

Even in the “professions” which thus far have felt little of the changes that the digital age will impose upon them in the future, will need to adapt their mindsets. Just like coal miners and steel workers, they will not have a ‘trade’ that lasts them for all of their working lives, they too will face the need for retraining or training in new skills. Technology will demand changes to the very education and career development paths of people like doctors and lawyers as ‘knowledge based computer systems’ increasingly offer faster solutions based upon broader knowledge and for many types of procedures, truly autonomous robotic surgery becomes far safer than human surgeons.

Whilst the above may seem fanciful and akin to past ‘future projections’ that envisaged flying cars and so on, this is not at all unlikely and in some form or another, will happen because the economic drivers are already in place. Short of war or a major pandemic to equal the Black Death, people are living longer but not without increasing health problems, already older people are a major drain on health service resources. This will lead to a drive to use machines for automated health check testing/monitoring/diagnosis which in turn will lead to many medical procedures becoming also fully automated and constant data collection in real time. This data will be able to be utilised by health professionals in other parts of the country or even in the health care systems of other countries with similar health/environmental profiles.

Managing Expectations

The biggest challenge will be in changing the mindset of people, getting them to modify their expectations and overcoming the attitudes of what people think that they are entitled to. As has been only too recently demonstrated by junior doctors and teachers, the ‘muddle classes’ will be the most reactionary in wanting to cling to what they see as their positions in society though they will express their reluctance to change as based on their “expertise” and superior knowledge. Rather like junior doctors really striking about pay but expressing their motives as being wholly concerned with ‘saving the NHS’. However change is inevitable and unless they are to go the way of the railway wheel tappers or street lamp lighters, their Luddite tendencies need to be overcome.

Although I cannot claim the expertise or knowledge to predict the precise nature of the changes we face, I can illustrate the type of impacts. Many years ago I was working on assessing the idea for implementing a “Knowledge Management” system to be used to improve performance and profitability. The principal is simple, if every business could remember all of the things it ‘knew’ from it’s experience over say the past 10 or 20 years, it could avoid mistakes and make better decisions going forward. Initially I focused on how you might capture this information especially when much of it was lost when people left the company, taking it with them but eventually I realised that this wasn’t the biggest problem. The real issue was even if you had all the information to hand, because it was quite disparate by nature, how do you organise it ?

My conclusion was that in order to make it work, you didn’t need computer technicians or even people from inside the business, what you would need was a large team of trained Librarians because only they would have the expertise to dispassionately organise the data logically. The skills that make things work come in many shapes and sizes.

Employers it seems to me, are often very vocal in complaining that the education system isn’t delivering the kind of work place skills they need, so the answer is that they should stop moaning and put both cash and resources into training facilities. We need to look at how skill centres that offer proper personal assessment of candidates and from there re skilling or retraining opportunities to them can operate efficiently as well as how we finance people through this process. In lock step with this, there needs to be an acceptance that there are no jobs for life and formal retraining can be expected probably every 10 years of a working life.

Facing the Future

Because we are an island and also because of Brexit, we will be better placed to bring about the social changes needed to face our economic future. In the face of these changes, there will be demands for Government resources to be pumped into one failing industry or another and it will often be hard to resist doing so for purely political reasons but resist we must. The big Government investment must be in training and developing our most precious asset and resource, the skills of the people of these islands.

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