Lessons From The Shipyard Farmers

When the badly unprepared United States entered World War II, its navy urgently needed new ships. But with droves of young men drafted into the military, there were few able-bodied workers to build them.


When the city of Brunswick, Georgia was chosen for construction of a new shipyard, depression-weary Georgia farmers carrying burlap bags packed with wood-cutting tools flocked to the coast in hopes of finding work. Men who had never seen the ocean or any vessel larger than a rowboat joined women and the elderly to learn to weld steel and to build an enormous wartime shipyard. Then they built workhorse ships to counter Germany’s industrial might. Faced with war and presented a chance to learn and work, these people rose to meet the moment.

Fast forward to 2018. As political and business leaders gather in Davos next week, the future of work will be a hot topic. The introduction of automation and artificial intelligence into the workplace will create one of the biggest challenges of our time, because, as you may have heard, robots are coming for our jobs. Economists have done studies in recent years to determine whether this workplace tech revolution will kill more jobs than it creates. The results, not surprisingly, are inconclusive.

In short, we don’t know what long-term effect automation will have on job creation, but we do know that new jobs will demand a new kind of education and training. We can’t expect the guy driving today’s truck to simply slide to the passenger side to earn his living maintaining the software that drives tomorrow’s truck.

One likely impact: governments with money to spend on education, worker retraining, and social safety net protections for workers who can’t make the transition will have an adaptability advantage over governments that don’t have the cash.

But… as the farmers who built the warships remind us, human beings, especially those who must adapt to survive, can do extraordinary things.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

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January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

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A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

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