Automation and the use of algorithms within all areas of human activity are phenomena that will have increasing relevance for the majority of citizens in developed and developing regions of the world during the next few decades.
Policymakers, legislators, leaders and innovators will increasingly need to focus on coping with the demands that automation places upon all aspects of society, industry and the structures of finance and commerce. Our current understanding of the issues of employment and careers, education, training, and even what it means to be a worthwhile member of society, will be challenged and need to change due to the interacting developments and effects of capitalism, automation and continuing globalisation.
Leaders in government, business, industry, education and social services will need to change methods, structures and processes in increasingly innovative ways to remain effective and relevant.
Automation has already had significant effects in various parts of our society. These effects give, and will continue to give, wildly varying experiences depending on how, where, why, and in what ways automation has been adopted.
The exact nature of the effects of automation will be different in various parts of the world, in different parts of each society and even in different areas of the same industry. As William Gibson is attributed to saying, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” (discussion of the quote attribution here).
The uneven advance of automation throughout the world will likely cause policy makers to spend a great deal of time debating the causes, effects, likely certainty and efficacy of rapid and accelerating technology development and application. This political and legislative delay will likely exacerbate the problems that automation will bring along with its benefits.
Fortunately, there are many people starting to engage in consideration of the nature of, likely effects and benefits of automation. The following are links to a range of articles that offer perspectives on the issues associated with automation its likely effects over the next decades.
The Guardian reported on analysis done by Associated Press, which stated that it was not only the low-paid sector which is at risk of being significantly affected by the ongoing use of algorithmic methods and the automation: Click here for the Guardian article.
Deloitte Insight sees an estimated 39% of legal positions being replaced by automation and algorithms within 20 years with a move away from needing a large number of legal secretarial and administrative workers to increased demand for the high-skilled roles needed to develop and manage new technologies: Click here for the Deloitte article.
Futurism.com reports on the report compiled by the University of Oxford and Citigroup. It does this in the form of an infographic that is found here. I used this to produce a video version for use at my school – my video can be found here – a blog post on this site or on my YouTube channel here.
Next Big Future reports on Foxconn, who manufacture Apple and Samsung products. Foxconn is replacing 60,000 workers with robots: Click here for the Next Big Future report.
A frequent subject on technology blogs is the move toward automated vehicles including driverless cars and robotic vehicles. The move toward driverless vehicles will, in due course reduce the need for drivers of trams, trains, taxis – etc: Click here for a Freep.com article on self-driving cars. Mining, port and distribution companies are already reducing their need for skilled drivers: Click here for a report on Rio Tinto’s automated mining operations.
Distinct from the use of robots and physical automation is the move toward algorithmic method that replace traditional manual methods. Even now, news and sports writing are being automated using big data technologies and natural language engines such as Wordsmith and Narrative Science: Click here for a Wired article on writing bots. The New Yorker reports on the use of automation in writing sports reports: Click here for the report.
The ageing population and a lack of skilled surgeons will meet increased automation to bring about situations where less-skilled surgeons will be able to perform complex operations. Click here for a Wired article on surgical applications of automation. Click here for a report on the use of algorithms and automation in systems that perform highly reliable medical diagnosis.
Automation will bring with it a need to change legislation. This has started to occur as can be seen in Europe. Due to the increasing number of ‘intelligent’ robot devices and the need to account for legal liability, the EU is considering legally defining robots as ‘electronic persons’: Click here for the Sydney Morning Herald’s report on the EU proposals.
I have been interested to read about the growing awareness of the immensity of the changes that will happen over the next 20 years or so. One concept related to the issue of automation is that of a supported income base to enable and support demand for goods and services.
As the number of fully employed or well-paid workers decrease so, the likely demand for goods and services will decline. Without demand, many industries will collapse. Thus, there may be a need to guarantee all citizens a basic amount of money to support society’s need for people to purchase things. Ideas such as a Universal Basic Income have been raised and have been gaining exposure over the last couple of years.
Of course, this doesn’t answer the question about what all these unemployed but paid citizens will do all day.
An interesting book which explores many of these issues is ‘Rise of the Robots: Technology and the threat of a jobless future‘ by Michael Ford.
The book looks at concerns regarding automation that have existed further back in the past than you would at first think, considers the affect of automation in throughout society, business and industry, and gives an account of the range of thinking that is occurring about our future due to the effects of automation over the next decades. Click here for a YouTube video where Michael Ford talks about the Rise of the Robots.
There is obviously a lot more thinking that needs to be done around this issue.