August 15, 2015      

If robots are going to displace literate employees from their jobs,
what chance have illiterates to any jobs at all?

Might technology built ostensibly for robots and Smartphones
come to the aid of illiterates?

Hitting back at despair and isolation

Since the first mainframe computer cranked into action in the late 1940s, information technology has cast out millions of jobs while, in waves, generated millions of new and previously unheard of replacements.

If the history of technology holds true to its own past events and repeats itself, millions of jobs lost to robot-driven automation will be made anew.

What exact functions most of these future jobs will entail is widely unknown. There aren?t even speculations except from the scaremongering fringe ranting about mass unemployment.

We?ll know better when these new jobs want us to.

Who knew about the app industry until five years ago when it suddenly stuck itself in our faces?

For those who are literate and educated and open to the future, jobs and careers will be there. History has ably demonstrated that reinvention process over and over again since the Industrial Revolution.

Completely passed over in all of the talk about robots transforming work and jobs is the plight of those who cannot read, write or speak well enough to be employed. The illiterate.

But what of the less fortunate?

For the illiterate, hard times brought on by robot-driven automation might well be catastrophic if nothing is done to counteract their trajectory toward continued illiteracy.

Take, for example, the 700 million illiterates who, reports the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, share the world with literates. That?s roughly one of every seven people on the planet.

India alone has over 287 million illiterates. China?s 5 percent illiteracy rate, although seemingly a small percentage, still represents 54 million people aged 15 and older who are unable to read and write a simple sentence.

The illiterate of India and China total up to 30 million more people than the entire population of the U.S. (320 million as of 2015).

What of the illiterate when robot-driven automation comes calling?

Unable to read, write or even to speak well, and tragically too uneducated to do most any task under direction, are these tens of millions doomed to the far margins of society, or worse, pariah to be shunned and forgotten?

Tech for transformation exists

Of course, the obvious solution is to get all these illiterates into the safe arms of literacy ASAP; but we all know better. Literacy is never easy. Literacy is a slow, arduous process, which is a prime reason why so many tens of millions are illiterate in the first place.

Robot sensor tech and Google Glass?

robot laser and Google Glass

The new Google Glass Enterprise Edition (replacing the consumer Explorer edition) might well be capable of forming the base unit of a proposed device to aid illiterates.

Google 9 to 5 reports ?Tony Fadell, the CEO of Google’s Nest, took over Google Glass, the project was ?reset? and went from a public beta back to closed, secretive development.?

Sources say that the new Enterprise Edition is directed at businesses, will be more rugged, waterproof, will run on an Intel Atom processor, will support 5GHz 802.11ac Wi-Fi and will have a long-life battery pack for 8-hour use.

Google glass, combined with a Siri-like voice (Cortana or Google Now will also do), operating in conjunction with a miniaturized laser reader harnessed to scan lines of text and then read them back aloud, might well be a breakout tool for those trapped by illiteracy.

Cloud-connected, the unit could, in theory, assist the illiterate in daily living?maybe even working a job?and could also ?teach?, explain the world to an illiterate in a fascinating new way.

That window sign that would previously baffle an illiterate suddenly becomes intelligible; same for a restaurant menu, or the aisles of a supermarket, or simpler fare like an online newspaper or magazine.

Voice-to-text suddenly makes emailing possible, with the Siri-like voice suggesting changes in grammar or word choice. And if needed, the Siri-like voice could explain the why behind the suggested grammar or word change.

Imagine for a moment an illiterate standing in the aisle of a bookstore, a previously forbidden place for his or her lack of literacy, and suddenly any title, any page is totally accessible.

Just ambling down a neighborhood street could become a new and thrilling experience.

Here?s a sobering warning about robots and jobs from of all places, PBS.
It?s scaremongering for sure, but it heightens the sense of what will we do about 700 million illiterates. To do nothing is not an option.