Technology seems to have invaded every facet of our lives in the 21st century. In the iPhone we have in our pockets what would have been a supercomputer just a decade or so ago; a single device that can do far more than PCs or Macs just a generation ago.
News items of the past week include large portions of the internet being knocked offline thanks to a botnet attack from DVRs and IP cameras. Yesterday, I read about a self-driving trailer truck that carried 51,744 cans of Budweiser beer along 120 miles of a Colorado interstate highway.
We shop at a nearby Safeway grocery store which still has check-out clerks of the human variety– and plenty of automated checkout stands. The Walmart down the street has them, too.
If I were a taxi driver how would I feel about autonomous self-driving cars? A driverless taxi would show up at my door and take me to my destination, all thanks to an app on my iPhone, a credit card, and the ever relentless march of technology into the job market.
If I were a transport truck driver how would I feel about Budweiser being delivered from the brewery to a distributor without a driver? A truck loaded with brew just shows up at the loading dock, thanks to technology that works 24/7, doesn’t require a break or health insurance.
Modern technology is everywhere, including the upcoming election where many polling stations are little more than computer network terminals, and if there’s a computer in the system then it can be hacked.
Is it too late to be afraid of technology?
Drinking beer from an event memorial can that was delivered by a robot might sound cool and herald yet another dramatic change in society, but when the number of such robots pushes an ever larger number humans into unemployment, what then?
Recent studies indicate that current technology could automate nearly half of activities that people are paid now to perform, and the majority of all human occupations– from a list of more than 800– could have 30-percent of their activities automated.
The Robots Are Coming! The Robots Are Coming!
It isn’t just predictable physical work which can be automated, but that’s where it starts. Check-out clerks at Safeway perform much the same task– move items across a scanner– all day. Self-help scanners offload that physical labor to the customer, thereby reducing cost. That exchange of human action to automated processes is taking place with alarming frequency.
Foxconn, the Chinese company that manufactures the iPhone, has replaced tens of thousands of workers with robots; machines that are more accurate, faster, and less prone to mistakes than living, breathing workers. The human equation has shifted from making a product to making a machine that makes the product; a process which requires fewer humans.
Here’s the problem.
As more people are displaced by modern technology, what will those people do to remain within the economic system that provides everyone with disposable income? If businesses can manufacture products with robots instead of people, how will people obtain the money to buy what the machines make?
This problem of technological and economic displacement is already here and I don’t see a solution on the horizon.