”The new digital society is already here”

Meet Per Ödling, Professor of Telecommunication at LTH, who recently gave a lecture for the Hjärntrusten network in Lund entitled “The new digital society is already here”.

Per OdlingYou expect to become redundant as a teacher within the foreseeable future?

“Yes, that’s correct.”

And whose fault is that?

“It is mine and all those who have contributed to technical and digital developments in society.”

What about the rest of the university staff?

“I think most will be redundant. Of the 800 universities in Europe, I don’t think more than 80 will survive.”

What will happen to the level of education in society then?

“It will be excellent. The number of students is not going to fall – instead they will get the best courses online from the best teachers, and it’s doubtful whether Lund will be able to compete.”

But we can surely carry on with research even if the students go over to the internet?

“Well, even if research is already globalised, the question is how the rest of society will regard our existence when we no longer provide education…”

What will happen to schools and the education system in general?

“Today children don’t learn to read and write in school like they used to. They do it online through games and YouTube. Schools will still be needed, but not in the form of crowded brick buildings like we have now.”

But what about the social aspect – won’t that be lost?

“No generation is as social as the one that has grown up with the internet. They interact with more people than ever, including people from around the world. No generation gap is as big as the one between us and our children. They are neurobiologically different from us – from the age of two, their brains are formed to use and interact over the internet.”

 You show pictures of your 12-year-old son’s room and call it a monk’s cell…

“Yes, it’s fairly empty. He doesn’t have any stuff. The new digital consumption takes place online and generates neither objects nor jobs.”

So what will happen to the job market in the future?

“Young people’s consumption patterns do not give me hope for new jobs. Robots have already taken over many jobs. Take the mining industry, which used to employ 3 000 men. There is hardly any human labour on production lines any more, and robots will also replace surgeons and most driving jobs.”

So, the future looks gloomy?

“It doesn’t have to if we can adapt to the new society. There are a lot of good things about the developments; we don’t have to work as much or get as stressed, dangerous jobs are eliminated, transport becomes safer, things become more environmentally friendly, and everyone is equal on the internet.”

What do we have to do to adapt?

“Unfortunately, I don’t know, and no one else seems to either.”

Text and photo: Maria Lindh

FOOTNOTE. According to a report published earlier this year by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF), 53 per cent of jobs, or around 2.5 million jobs in Sweden, could be replaced by digital technology.