7 Thinkers on the Future of Automation
We know that in the coming years, automation will influence every part of our lives: from work and school, to leisure and family. But what will this automated future look like?
To zoom in on the future of automation, we’re sharing a collection of pieces from contemporary writers, thinkers and business leaders.
The Real Story of Automation Beginning with One Simple Chart
The author takes an arresting chart as a jumping off point to discuss the future of automation:
“As the number of oil rigs declined due to falling oil prices, so did the number of workers the oil industry employed. But when the number of oil rigs began to rebound, the number of workers employed didn’t.”
He continues: “Automation has been happening right under everyone’s noses, but people are only beginning to really talk about the potential future dangers of automation reducing the incomes of large percentages of the population. In the US, the most cited estimate is the loss of half of all existing jobs by the early 2030s. It’s great that this conversation is finally beginning, but most people have no idea that it’s already happening. And about half of those people who know it’s happening, are relying on magical thinking to support their beliefs that automation is of no concern. To the contrary, it is of massive concern… the discussion is framed as a future danger to our social fabric instead of a clear and present danger.”
The Jobs We’ll Lose to Machines — And the Ones We Won’t
Not every job can be automated. In a recent TED Talk, machine learning expert Anthony Goldbloom examines the future of automation in the world of work.
“The future state of any single job lies in the answer to a single question: To what extent is that job reducible to frequent, high-volume tasks, and to what extent does it involve tackling novel situations? On frequent, high-volume tasks, machines are getting smarter and smarter. Today they grade essays. They diagnose certain diseases. Over coming years, they’re going to conduct our audits, and they’re going to read boilerplate from legal contracts. Accountants and lawyers are still needed. They’re going to be needed for complex tax structuring, for pathbreaking litigation. But machines will shrink their ranks and make these jobs harder to come by.”
We Are All Creatives: A Manifesto of Humanity in the Age of Automation
Mike Sturm picks up the theme of mass job loss in an automated future, but argues that humanity’s innate creativity will allow us to not just survive, but thrive, in an automated future. He writes:
“It used to be that reason was the uniquely human trait. It was what separated us from the other complex organisms. Since the advent of sophisticated computers, that trait seems to have been perfected by the machines. With computers being able to “think through” problems and solve them, reasoning has become the arena in which humans consistently come in second place.
We humble humans may be slowed down by tricky syllogisms, but only we can make up ideas from whole cloth. Only we can throw off the shackles of established thought.
“That means that it is not rationality — logical thinking — but creative thinking where humans have the edge. We humble humans may be slowed down by tricky syllogisms, but only we can make up ideas from whole cloth. Only we can throw off the shackles of established thought.
“… So take the mundane job that automation might threaten, and ask what illogical and emotive tasks can be built-in. Ask what personal and emotional connections there are that can provide better interactions between people, better collaboration, and spontaneous advancement. They are there — you just have to think creatively.”
Why You Should Treat the Tech You Use at Work Like a Colleague
Technology is an investment – just like the people in your business. Nadjia Yousif makes the case for treating technology less like a tool and more like a part of the team.
She explains: “Imagine a company hires a new employee, best in the business, who’s on a multimillion-dollar contract. Now imagine that whenever this employee went to go meet with her team members, the appointments were ignored or dismissed, and in the meetings that did happen, she was yelled at or kicked out after a few minutes. So after a while, she just went quietly back to her desk, sat there with none of her skills being put to use, of course, being ignored by most people, and of course, still getting paid millions of dollars. This hotshot employee who can’t seem to catch a break is that company’s technology.”
Why Taxing Robots Is Not The Way To Go
If we treat technology like a team member, should that extend to taxes too? Nicola Tomatis, the CEO of BlueBotics, argues that taxing robots is not the way to go:
“This approach would work if robots were being deployed solely in order to boost profits by cutting costs (which, by the way, would increase what a company pays in profit taxes). And if outside international competitive pressures didn’t exist.
“However, this is rarely the case. Most often, robots are instead taking over repetitive or dangerous human tasks because an organization must improve its performance — in other words its productivity — in order to remain competitive.”
Automation is Making Us Dumber… and That’s a Good Thing
Ben Noble makes the point that losing skills to automation has always been a very real fear… and that’s a good thing. He writes:
“We’ve always been sacrificing our skills to the altar of new technology. In 10,000 BC, we became worse at hunting because we discovered agriculture. In 1917, we became worse at hand-washing clothes, because the washing machine took over. We’ve all made peace with all that.”
When we don’t spend every waking minute trying to find our next meal or a safe place to sleep, we have the freedom to be creative.
“Why? Because when machines wash our clothes, when only 3% of the population can sustain an entire country with their crops, the rest of us have the time to pursue our own passions. When we don’t spend every waking minute trying to find our next meal or a safe place to sleep, we have the freedom to be creative. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the less we have to worry about, the better (and more creative, and more fulfilling) our lives will be.”
How to Live With Robots
In this TED Talk, chess champion Garry Kasparov reflects on his famous loss to IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in 1997 – and suggests a future where we live happily with robots.
“Soon, machines will be taxi drivers and doctors and professors, but will they be “intelligent?” I would rather leave these definitions to the philosophers and to the dictionary. What really matters is how we humans feel about living and working with these machines.”
“… It turned out that the world of chess still wanted to have a human chess champion. And even today, when a free chess app on the latest mobile phone is stronger than Deep Blue, people are still playing chess, even more than ever before.”
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