Drones, Robots & AI

Is society sleepwalking into the future?


Inevitability

If you have five minutes, take a look at the article in the below link. Quite thoughtfully assembled, it takes a pretty decent look at what the effects of technological innovation on levels of employment and wages could be.

The Future Of Jobs: The Onrushing Wave

About 5 years ago my mind turned to what it would take to make robots, drones, etc. a real force to be reckoned with in the workplace environment. A force where they could tackle the tasks we humans do or are involved in today. The answer for me was clever technological integration of engineering and control systems with analytic and decision making software backed by the ability to track everything and compensate in real-time.

Let’s call that disruptive innovation for simplicity (sorry, I can’t think of a better term). Be clear though, this is not about disrupting a product segment, a market or an industry. This is about disrupting the future of work, something that probably concerns most.

If you think we are on the cusp of that moment, you might want to think again. The tipping point has passed, disruptive innovation is already upon us. Disruptive because some things we have taken for granted for a while are likely to change substantially, in some cases they will disappear entirely.

There is little point to being worried or scared, disruptive innovation will continue to happen. Being scared or worried and acting against it will not change the fact of what is coming, it only delays what is so obviously inevitable. Be positive and constructive. Fore-warned is fore-armed, act on the information and help shape the changes.

If you accept any of the logic in the above article, it illustrates there are some significant issues to be concerned with. What this article does is to throw those into sharper focus. There are plenty of other good sources out there to look at, but this is as good a place as any to immerse yourself gently in some of the pertinent background.

Are we sleepwalking into the future thinking policy makers and governments are actually ahead of the curve on this? One absolute truth with impactful technological innovation is that it runs quickly ahead of thinking and planning in some very disruptive ways. That leaves assessment, consultation and policy running years behind.

Such imbalance creates a distinct polarity. At one end are those that see scope and opportunity in technological change and embrace it. At the other there are those that see no need to prepare, comfortable in their bubbles, inertia rules. A window of opportunity is opening for those with foresight, evidence pointing towards upheaval for the unprepared.

Watching the movie “I Robot”, I remember being struck overwhelmingly by a progression of questions. Not where’s my popcorn, but something much more important. Why does this serene picture of happiness not make sense to me? If robots are doing many of the tasks in that life, what do the people do? Why would you need very many people at all? What will the rest do?

Agreed, that’s negative thinking. The flip side is that disruptive innovation will make possible new industries, markets, science, understanding, improve health, etc. How will you be positioned to take advantage of these, especially if you are just setting out on life’s journey?

In so many views of the future of work many details are conveniently glossed over. Everyone benefits, nobody loses, things just change and rebalance themselves. As always, the devil in the detail.

For a number of very sound financial reasons, one projection of the future postulates even more wealth concentrated in the hands of capital owners. This might not affect the working classes as much as other classes because working classes have always been pretty much squeezed in the grand scheme of things. However, there seems to be some consensus now that middle-classes are the ones likely to find themselves squeezed by disruptive innovation.

Were I to project, I suggest the details probably contain some serious shockers for the middle-classes. Let’s do a little thought experiment here.

    • As an employer, if I can use robots, drones, AI, algorithms, etc. to streamline my business and employ less workers, particularly higher paid skilled and educated ones, why wouldn’t I?
    • If I use less workers, do I need the business structure I have currently, could I lose some functions and levels of management?
    • Would I need all of the expensive, non-core business support systems I have in place today?

Robots (and you should include software in here as much as physical hardware) are going to be able to do as much as you think and then much more.

    • One more subjective question, do you still think you’re job is going to be unaffected?

The obvious trouble is there is a lot of conjecture and opinion and not enough facts and evidence to project with certainty where this will all end up. Though there is no certainty, that does not mean we should not be anticipatory.

For instance, I find myself thinking about the possibility of the opportunity pendulum swinging in the direction of capital owners and away from workers. If as many think wealth ends up even more concentrated in the hands of capital owners, how will this lead to growth for many of them in the long run?

Logically, if less people have cold hard cash, who will be buying the things that companies are producing? Who will be investing in stocks? Who will have pensions? Who will be able to afford healthcare? These things will eventually affect capital owners since they will expect to provide these things.

Admittedly, there is likely to be a glide path as jobs get gobbled up and industries transform. Isn’t this the time to look at what that means?

I’d love to hear any and all thoughts anyone want to share :-)

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