In this post I am advocating for ALL governments to get off their rather ample and soft posteriors and be proactive about thinking about the future. Yes, that’s a provocative statement. It’s important, if they don’t do their projections properly, then we could be looking to a difficult and painful period of human history.
Let’s start by painting a picture and colouring in some detail.
If I understand the economic recovery we’re currently going through, much of that is being driven by consumer spending? Regardless of recession or not, we naturally depend on consumer spending to not only continue but to increase. Our economies depend on it. That seems to be prevailing logic of human activity? Yes, that is an over-simplification of things, but it will do as start.
In a simplistic view of the world this is people like you and me wanting that new cell phone, game console or other shiny thing. We want things, somebody makes things, we earn money to buy things and somebody gets money for things. Somebody making things drives others to extract or produce raw materials for things. This ultimately drives many aspects of the economy.
In what is an ever-increasing trend, robots, drones, AI’s, algorithms, etc. are taking on the tasks that are or were once performed by us soft-bodied humans. They are quite reliable, faster, more accurate, run nearly 24x7x365, don’t need education, don’t eat, don’t sleep, don’t get paid, don’t have pensions, don’t get sick, don’t take holidays and don’t join unions. Equally, they don’t ask for raises, don’t complain, don’t have babies, don’t play games, don’t do social media…well, you get my drift.
Unlike employees, under current accounting rules these “tools” are a tangible asset that can be depreciated over the life of that asset for tax purposes. Does this sound like it’s all upside for organisations looking to increase their competitiveness and profitability by driving down costs and driving up productivity?
Now, let’s assign these “digital workhorses” – robots, drones, AI’s, algorithms, etc. – a name we can easily associate all of them with – Mechs. That’s not an official term, just a convenient one.
As you can see, we have established a strong motive for organisations to roll out Mechs wherever they can and as fast as they can. Those that can not or choose not to may not even be able to compete and therefore may not survive. This brings me to a key point : Mechs have the very real potential to transform the job landscape like no other technology before them. The impact of Mechs could make previous step-changes like mechanisation, production lines and outsourcing look like mere baby steps.
Are governments doing their homework, are they anticipating and planning properly for a world in which Mechs are common place? Without good planning aforethoght, could we eventually be looking at a world out of balance? Are there thousands of manual and/or repetitive jobs that could be eliminated? The answer is likely yes. What will that mean to the world? Which nations will benefit and which ones will lose out?
Mechs don’t earn anything, don’t buy anything and don’t invest anything. By the way, Mechs don’t vote either, don’t pay taxes and don’t need healthcare. Taxes run countries, governments, cities. Will there be less workers, will they be earning less in the aggregate and paying less tax in the aggregate? Who will have money to buy goods?
Lots of questions, very few answers.
None of this has to be as negative as painted here and probably won’t be. Many of the raw minerals, mining and energy industries will still be needed. New industries can be invented, young industries will mature and grow. Research will still be needed. This is why I’m advocating planning now. One example of a positive story will be the evolution of the nascent Mech manufacturing and Mech service industry – that is until someone figures out how to have Mechs manufacture and service Mechs without our interference.
Feeling a bit nervous now?
That is what I hoped. Nervousness is good. It stops us taking our world for granted, it keeps us on our toes and keeps us moving forward. Forewarned is forearmed, let’s avoid our own obsolesence and let’s get the planning going early.
Questions yet to be tackled (not by me), there are sure to be lots more :
Will this change the balance of power between countries? Mechs could negate some of the the need for importing manufactured goods, outsourcing and off-shoring. What will happen in China if no one imported chinese goods, what will happen in India if Mechs can do jobs cheaply that were off-shored because of cost?
How will this change our society?
Is it better to adopt and implement the technology before other nations and organisations or wait and learn from them?
Lots of questions. Anyone who knows Bladerunner, think incept dates :-)
Have your say, what do you think? Beautiful bright future, uncertain shadowy one or cleverly navigated one with the fewest painful bumps?
- Race Against the Machines (nbcbayarea.com)