I guess I was frustrated working on an Arkansas community development project some time ago when Arkansas Women's Hall of Famer Dorothy Stuck posed the question: "If we don't build Arkansas, who will?" I have not forgotten this important advice.
Several volunteers at UA Little Rock are working on just such a building project. We are members of the Dean's Science Council under the leadership of Dr. Sarah Beth Estes, Dean of the College of Arts, Letters and Sciences. Our goal is to build scholarships, internship opportunities and other financial support for students enrolled in the core science and math courses at UALR. We also hope to support efforts to attract students to attend and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
The core science and math courses are the very foundation required for many jobs now and most jobs in the near future. If the foundation is weak, our Central Arkansas economy will be dramatically affected. Well, you say, we are primarily an agricultural state which isn't very high-tech. Ag has become very high-tech with use of drones and tractors equipped with as much technology as a science lab. Farmers not trained to use computers are at a significant disadvantage.
Last year I had the opportunity to tour L'Oreal's Central Arkansas plant with two exchange students from Indonesia. What we saw was a highly automated system for most steps in their processing. Our guide said that when she started some 17 years ago, people performed most of the processes that machines now handled. Automation is not new, but what is different now is the velocity of change and the intelligence of devices. In the past machines were fairly dumb and needed humans to apply intelligence to what they did. Extremely powerful and relatively inexpensive processors, sensors and other technology have led to what is now called "machine intelligence."
When most of us think of the pace of change we think of increments of X percent per year. In his book Thank You for Being Late, author Thomas Friedman elegantly explains the power of exponential change, which is vastly different. Exponential change is the familiar "Moore's Law," where the former head of Intel projected the increase in processing power to double every year. Doubling every year or two is far different from, say, a 10 percent increase every year.
Friedman reminds us that in 2007 the iPhone was introduced, bookseller Amazon introduced Kindle, and IBM started building Watson. There was no Uber or Lyft, no Airbnb and certainly no self-driving vehicles. Friedman quotes author Dov Seidman: "The world is not just rapidly changing, it is being rapidly reshaped--it is starting to operate differently in many realms all at once. And this reshaping is happening faster than we have yet been able to reshape ourselves, our leadership, our institutions, our societies and our ethical choices."
Exponential change in technology is not just affecting entry-level jobs. I am retired from one of the large international accounting firms, and in a recent meeting management detailed the significant funds being expended on very impressive technology and, in another session, talked about budget cuts. It was clear that technology was eliminating jobs at a very high level.
I was an auditor and we would lug boxes full of workpaper binders to client offices. We were proud of our sophistication in statistics, selecting precise random samples that were hopefully representative of all transactions. Today automated workpapers are the norm, and data-mining tools enable auditors to not just audit a sample of transactions, but all transactions in areas like cash receipts and cash disbursements. All this is done better and in a fraction of the time.
So "if we don't build Arkansas, who will?" We all must play a role in providing younger generations with the tools they will need, regardless of their career path. If we fail in this, our Central Arkansas economy will be dramatically affected.
There is a way each of you can help right now. Each year the Dean's Science Council sponsors the "Fribourgh Award," which raises scholarship funds for UALR students pursuing a career in science and math. These are our teachers and inventors of the future. The award is named after the beloved late Dr. James Fribourgh, who was chair of Life Sciences and interim chancellor at UALR.
This year's recipient is the late Dr. Raye Jean Montague, who was Arkansas' own "Hidden Figure" who solved complex naval engineering problems that others could not. She achieved incredible results at a time when women, and particularly women of color, were not welcome in science and engineering fields. This year's Fribourgh Award event will be held Oct. 10 from 6-8 p.m. at Chenal Country Club. Further information is available at tinyurl.com/fribourgh or by contacting Derek Boyce at email@example.com.
Jerry Damerow is chairman of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Dean's Science Council.
Editorial on 09/30/2019
Print Headline: JERRY DAMEROW: If we don't do it ...