Information Age Education
   Issue Number 207
April 15, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications. All of the IAE materials are free and can be accessed at http://iae-pedia.org/Main_Page.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

A Mind-blowing Decrease in Communication Costs

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

I enjoy reading the 50, 100, & 150 Years Ago section of Scientific American. The following is quoted from the August, 2016, issue of Scientific American. It is from an article published 150 years ago, in 1866.

Pricy Telegraph

We had occasion to send a [transatlantic] telegraph message to our correspondent in London, through the Atlantic Cable, consisting of exactly 20 words, which according to the published schedule, should have gone forward for £20 sterling, but the director at this end charged £24 or $120 in gold, so as to cover the date of transmission. We wish the Submarine Telegraph Company success, but it seems to us impossible that the public will submit to such exorbitant, and as it appears to us, unreasonable charges.

In 1866, the speed of transmission of this undersea cable was about eight words per minute, so 24 words was a three-minute message. Adjusting for inflation, in 2017 dollars the transmission cost about $3,200.

Today’s Undersea Fiber Optic Cables

Wow, have times changed! Currently, companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are individually and/or jointly laying undersea fiber optic cables for use by their customers and business (Metz, 5/26/2016). An individual fiber in the newest cables transmits information at 160 terabytes (160 trillion bytes) per second. This is about 150 trillion times as fast as the first trans-Atlantic cable that sent messages using Morse code. A one-inch in diameter cable contains about a half-dozen fibers and many layers of various types of coating to give it great strength.

To say this in different way, with this speed of transmission, a half-million different television signals can be transmitted simultaneously over one fiber.

Call Centers Provide an Interesting Example

Through the use of high-speed, low-cost fiber optics, phone call centers that serve people in the United States can be located nearly any place in the world. The cost of such a call is very little. What is important, and is the main part of the cost, is the knowledge and language fluency of the call center employee.

I live on the coast in Oregon. Relatively frequently, I engage in a conversation with a “help” service over my phone or through my computer. After the helper and I have finished our communication, I frequently ask, “Where are you located?” The people I am talking with are often in India, the Philippine Islands, or widely scattered throughout the U.S.

Here is some data comparing the call center businesses in the Philippines, India, and the U.S. (White, 2/17/2015).
  • The Philippines has now become the largest offshore voice-related call center market with more than 400,000 call center workers.

  • India has an estimated employment of 350,000 voice-related call center workers.

  • It is estimated that there is in excess of 2.2 million workers employed in more than 6,800 call center facilities across the U.S.
I must admit that I was somewhat surprised, both by these large numbers of overseas workers and by the number of call center workers in the U.S. I assume that many of the call center employees in the U.S. are not performing “help” services, but instead are doing sales work, polling, and other similar tasks.

In recent years, I have seen considerable improvements in the computerization of help facilities, so most of my questions first get filtered through a voice input/output computer system. Usually it is only with great difficulty that I am able to actually get to talk with a human being. Remember, it costs a company very little to provide a computer service that talks to a customer. It is the cost of human-to-human conversation that is high. The best of today’s artificial intelligence phone conversation systems are still not very good in handling customer conversations.

Employment Implications of Information and Communication Technology

Besides fiber optics, you know about other rapid and continuing progress in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In addition to improvements in speed, there has been considerable progress in artificial intelligence. All of this technological progress has had a major impact in the world of commerce.

In the United States, the Industrial Age officially ended in 1956, when the number of white collar employees first exceeded the number of blue collar employees. About half of the blue collar jobs were in manufacturing, but there were a number of other types of blue collar jobs. In my home state of Oregon, for example, many people worked in the lumber industry. In this industry, there were many well-paying jobs that required only a high school degree—or less.

In 1960, about 24-percent of employment in the U.S. was in manufacturing. That has declined to about 9-percent (Long, 3/29/2016). Two major causes of this change are improvements in automation and an increase in imports of manufactured goods. Quoting from Heather Long’s article:

Call it the Great Shift. Workers transitioned from the fields [farming] to the factories. Now they are moving from factories to service counters and health care centers. The fastest growing jobs in America now are nurses, personal care aides, cooks, waiters, retail salespersons, and operations managers.

This does not mean that most such manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. Instead, improvements in manufacturing processes—considerably aided by computer technology—have decreased the number of workers, even while total manufacturing productivity has increased.

Think Robots, Robots, Robots! Quoting from Matthew Rendall (10/9/2016):

There is no denying that the U.S. and Canada have been losing jobs to offshore competition for almost half a century. From 2000 to 2010 alone, 5.6 million jobs disappeared.

Interestingly, though, only 13 percent of those jobs were lost due to international trade. The vast remainder, 85 percent of job losses, stemmed from “productivity growth” —another way of saying machines replacing human workers. [Bold added for emphasis.]

That is, many jobs have disappeared. But, most of this disappearance cannot be attributed to an export of manufacturing jobs to other countries. Quoting from Walter Williams’ article, Is Free Trade Causing Job Loss? (Williams, 8/17/2016):

It is true that the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been in steep decline for almost a half-century, but manufacturing employment disguises the true story of American manufacturing. U.S. manufacturing output has increased by almost 40 percent. Annual value added by U.S. factories has reached a record $2.4 trillion. To put that in perspective, if our manufacturing sector were a separate nation, it would be the seventh richest nation on the globe.

The point being made is worth repeating. Over a period of 50 years or so, with only about a third as many workers doing the manufacturing, the amount of goods manufactured in the U.S. increased by 40 percent.

A number of people have analyzed this situation. Quoting from Four Writers Take On Trump (Muro, January/February 2017).

Boston Consulting Group reports that it costs barely $8 an hour to use a robot for spot welding in the auto industry. A human doing the same job costs $25 an hour—and the gap is only going to widen. The “job intensity” of America’s manufacturing industries is only going to decline.


Educational Implications

It is clear to me that a good education includes:
  • Gaining knowledge and skills that today’s computers are still far from having. Many of these are what I call people skills.

  • Gaining relatively broad knowledge and skills in working with (rather than competing with) computers over a wide range of solving problems and accomplishing tasks.

  • Spending less time gaining knowledge and skills in areas where today’s computers already have capabilities that far exceed those of humans.

  • Spending more time on learning to learn, becoming a life-long learner, and learning to adjust to major changes that continue to occur in the world.

  • Developing an understanding of quality of life, and what—personally, and for others—helps to improve quality of life. Here are four excellent examples: learning and following lifelong habits of mind and body to maintain and improve mental and physical health; developing long-lasting, meaningful friendships; developing personally satisfying hobbies and avocations; and helping to improve the quality of life of others.

  • Learning to work in a collaborative, cooperative, group setting in which people in the group each contribute their unique knowledge, skills, and abilities as they work to solve problems and accomplish tasks. We adults know that there is far more to adult life than college and employment (Moursund, 1/9/2017).  And, look back at the second bulleted item given above. Quite likely computers can be an important contributor to the group. 
Undoubtedly, you can add to the list. Education is not and should not be a “one size fits all” endeavor, and it has many goals besides those that guide traditional educational systems.

References and Resources

Long, H. (3/29/2016). U.S. has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. CNN. Retrieved 1/14/2017 from http://money.cnn.com/2016/03/29/news/economy/us-manufacturing-jobs/.

Metz, C. (5/26/2016). Facebook and Microsoft are laying a giant cable across the Atlantic. Wired. Retrieved 1/13/2016 from
 https://www.wired.com/2016/05/facebook-microsoft-laying-giant-cable-across-atlantic/.

Moursund, D. (1/9/2017). College and job ready—and what else? Retrieved 1/20/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/college-and-job-ready-and-what-else.html.

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The Fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/289-the-fourth-r/file.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/290-the-fourth-r-1/file.html. Access the book online at http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R.

Muro, M. (January/February 2017). Four writers take on Trump and technology. MIT Technology Review.

National Association of Manufacturers (2017). Top 20 facts about manufacturing. Retrieved 1/14/2017 from http://www.nam.org/Newsroom/Top-20-Facts-About-Manufacturing/.

Rendall, M. (10/9/2016). Industrial robots will replace manufacturing jobs—and that’s a good thing. Crunch Network. Retrieved 1/14/2017 from https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/09/industrial-robots-will-replace-manufacturing-jobs-and-thats-a-good-thing/.

White, K. (2/17/2015). How big is the U.S. Call Center industry compared to India and the Philippines? Site Selection Group. Retrieved 1/13/2017 from https://info.siteselectiongroup.com/blog/how-big-is-the-us-call-center-industry-compared-to-india-and-philippines.

Williams, W. (8/17/2016). Is free trade causing job loss? Jewish World Review. Retrieved 1/15/2017 from http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams081716.php3#ZGEj8XoHsdjfPQ52.99.

Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books.

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell. Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu.

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