How Automation Is Going to Change Society As We Know It
We don’t typically dive into serious stuff on this site, but this is a topic that fascinates me. Plus, it’s worth having a conversation about. I don’t know what we can really do about automation, but I think we should at least be thinking about how greatly it will effect the world and how we can adjust. Seems like social media is littered with about a million different political posts, but no one seems to be talking about automation. Don’t get me wrong – social issues and the open discussion of ideas are important, but keeping things focused seems to be a problem, and it’s much easier to talk about issues we’re passionate about because we understand them better.
It’s easier for people to understand a tangible “physical” threat to their way of life. It’s also easier for people to look into the past – you know what’s there. You can point to something real and say, “we should be striving for that. Things were awesome then,” no matter how practical it actually is. That’s why we end up in huge debates about Mexicans taking our jobs or factories shutting down in small towns to operate overseas.
It’s just skirting around the real issue in this country – that advances in science and technology could potentially level our workforce by 2050 and totally displace your average, hard-working everyday Joe.
The truth is that there aren’t an awful lot of Americans out there who are willingly and eagerly signing up for the manual labor jobs that immigrants (illegal or not) take on and execute well. You can build that wall all you want, but if you do, not much is going to change in terms of providing jobs. Even if we forced these companies to stay in America, manual labor is going to be the first field to completely go anyway.
I’m a big believer in making sure we understand and frame the question properly. For me that big question is, “how do we prepare ourselves and future generations for automation?”
Seems lofty, sure. And, I do hate to peg automation as “the real enemy” of America. By and large, I think it’s going to be a beautiful world to live in, and I hope I’m alive to see it reach its full potential. Is that a less nerdy way of saying I want to be alive for The Singularity? I don’t know. Anyway, my point is that we shouldn’t spend so much time debating things that aren’t going to matter in 5-10 years.
The first jobs to go will be the factory/manufacturing jobs, and we’re already seeing that take hold. Next up, the administrative jobs – that’s right. All of the boring paperwork you fill out at your day job is eventually going to be performed by a robot. Automation could even potentially replace HR, which is pretty wild to think about.
But, nothing is off limits. The more we learn about automating processes, the more we can figure out how to automate things. It’s just going to keep feeding itself. For the longest time, we’ve thought that the creative industries would be untouched. However, the Los Angeles Times has already brought the idea of robot writers to life. Software and algorithms are capable of executing any task performed on a computer.
Think about how many lives the auto industry touches. Between manufacturers, designers, drivers, sales, logistics, insurance, and more that I’m probably forgetting, it is a massive industry. It’s not going to be breaking news to anyone here, but they happen to be working on cars that will drive themselves.
The ridesharing industry aims to completely revolutionize transportation, but they really only have one calling card: their networks. Still, there’s no doubt there’s an arms race to see who can get a fleet of autonomous vehicles on the road the quickest. But, just think about all that will change once people no longer own cars, and are no longer driving themselves.
A lot of the surveying and record-keeping is already being automated in the healthcare industry. But, what about the healthcare itself? Medical research and applications have made great strides in potentially using nanotechnology for things such as cancer treatment and lung disease. Is it not foreseeable to ultimately see nanotechnology replace nurses and hospital staff?
Brick and mortar shops are already taking a huge hit because of Amazon and the age of online shopping, but what brick and mortar remains in the future could become completely automated. Earlier this year, Amazon opened a fully automated grocery store. Carl’s Jr. has already explored the idea of opening a fully automated restaurant. The premise is simple – you walk into a Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, you go to a kiosk, place your order, “robots” make your food, then deliver it to you.
It would effectively wipe out an entire workforce, and this is precisely why the minimum wage argument is misguided. Think you can simply force companies to pay people more money? All it will do is escalate the process of ridding quick service food and simple retail industries of their workers.
Crazy as it may seem, there’s no job that can’t be touched by automation – it can be applied in every field. So, what do we do about it?
There are a lot of people, who are a whole hell of a lot smarter than I am, that are already working on it. But, if you want my two cents…
Something we could do immediately, from a societal standpoint, is reduce the stigma of not going to college. The worst possible thing we can do for the young ‘ens is force them into bullshit degrees for jobs that won’t be around, and lead them into crippling debt. That’s a recipe for disaster, and the plain simple reality is that not every kid needs college. We could offer more vocational training for students to learn practical skills. Step one, of course, is adding the fucking funding for it.
But, that gets into an entirely different discussion. We could reduce the focus on memorization in school and encourage more creative thought, adjustment, and basic survival skills as opposed to teaching kids how to pass a test. Think along the lines of something as simple as “how to live off of your available resources.” Why? Because that’s probably going to be an incredibly valuable skill in the future. Each skill becomes a valuable addition to your personal tool kit, and the stronger your tool kit, the more likely you are to find employment.
We can talk about basic income. But, that’s a sure fire way of getting eyes rolling and dejecting head-shakes from our target market. People seem to equate basic income with the fall of capitalism, and that’s simply not true. The ‘head in the clouds’ segment of believers seem to think everyone would just up and willingly start exploring their creative passions and enrich the world, but I say that’s a little naive. The deniers say you’re essentially paying people to be lazy, but I say that’s a little crude and presumptuous.
I think the answer, like in most cases, lies somewhere in between. Just because you give someone a basic income doesn’t mean you have to shell out $50K a year to someone. A simple stipend to help with living expenses could go a long way. But, there are a lot of people out there who can explain the benefits of basic income a lot better than I can. Regardless, I’d bet on basic income as an inevitability in the future. Also, keep in mind, that this was designed to simply be an introductory post to a much, much broader subject.
Again, this is an extremely high overview of a topic that is rich with information. I encourage everyone to look into all of the ways automation is shaping the world. A good place to start is the automation sub-Reddit.
And, ultimately, in summary, yes – yes I am terrified that Boston Dynamics is secretly plotting to take over the world.
Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD and #BeBetter. “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Alabama Crimson Tide football, the WWE, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley