I hope that, by your age, you all read the newspapers. Assuming you do (and if you do not, please start today), you will have seen that there was much controversy in the press last week, when David Cameron authorised a drone attack to kill a British citizen fighting for Islamic State in Syria. Was this “a worrying precedent”, as the Guardian stated, or was it “an act of self-defence”, as Cameron himself claimed. Well, I am guessing that you will all have a view and if you don’t, I encourage you to take one, because drones are here to stay and we must make our minds up how to view them. I wanted to draw your attention today to a few things which you may not have thought about regarding this sort of technology. In the holidays, there was an article in the Times about an attempt to mirror on sea the drone technology which has been developed already on land and in the air. Here is the article:
“A robot ship, able to sail itself and resist pirate attacks, could transform the shipping industry, its designers claim. The Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship (or MARS) will be powered by wind, solar and wave energy and will be able to make its own decisions about the best course of action to take depending on the conditions. Kevin Jones, executive dean of Plymouth University’s faculty of science and engineering, said “if we can put a rover on the planet Mars and have it autonomously conduct research, why can’t we sail an unmanned vessel across the Atlantic and ultimately around the globe?” The aim is that in 2020 this new ship will recreate the original Mayflower’s trip to the Americas, exactly 400 years after the Mayflower’s famous voyage. MARS will be a 33 metre high, two-masted, triple hulled vessel; it will carry a flotilla of drones that can be sent to carry out scientific research and it will be followed by thousands of students and school children as it beams back video, photographs and scientific information. MARS, and indeed future autonomous vessels, will be hardened against pirates to prevent their cargoes from being attacked. The unmanned vessels could stay at sea for months and won’t have to worry about refuelling, re-provisioning, illness or loneliness. The university is looking for partners to help fund the multi-million pound project and hopes to launch a prototype next year.”
What an amazing project this is; it has the potential to revolutionise maritime research, maritime travel, maritime warfare and maritime transportation. It also, and this is what I wish to get across to you today, has the potential to transform the job market. For those who have always wanted to be a train driver or an airline pilot, or in this case, work on superyachts or cruise liners, there may not be so much of a future – indeed I was in Copenhagen in the holidays where I took a trip for my first time on a driverless train. No doubt many of you have beaten me to it. What about the future of careers in the oil industry if our entire shipping industry ends up relying upon renewable energy? On the flip side, careers in science and technology will abound, it is clear. To build a vessel like MARS will require experts in materials, in design, in wind patterns, in wave technology, in solar power, in computer programming, in electronic engineering; and so on, and so on. But, and this is a big but, these sorts of projects also require a whole host of non-scientists, usually with great people skills and expertise in other specialised backgrounds. Finance experts will be needed to control costs; project managers will be needed to oversee progress; fundraisers will be needed to attract corporate and private money; marketing people will be needed to bring this project to the world’s attention and to assess its future viability; public relations people will be needed to ensure that the press it receives (as a potentially controversial project) is, indeed, favourable; salesmen will be needed to help realise its commercial possibilities; linguists will be needed to communicate this project to its global audience. And of course, somebody needed to write that newspaper article.
It is, I think, safe to assume that we will need expertise in science and technology more than ever in your adult lifetime; but equally, if you are not a scientist, it can be true that technological development will also bring jobs for non-technologists. What you can all guarantee is that employers in all fields will continue to look for the soft skills, the people skills that you all gain from the extra-curricular activities in particular which you undertake here at school. I will leave you with where I started; because we will need philosophers too, and experts in ethics. We are moving very quickly into unchartered waters; these are extremely interesting times; and somehow, there will be very many public debates to be had and ethical decisions to be made over drones and their like. So get thinking.