The inevitable rise of automation warrants cautious optimism

Society seems to be on the eve of an exciting new era of development. Automation is advancing at unprecedented rates, bringing with it many fears and grievances. Experts say that around 7 million jobs will be lost to the automation process by the year 2020, with only 2 million jobs being created in their stead, leaving many people justifiably worried. It makes sense. It is the nature of technology to change society irrevocably, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Automation could very well act as a positive force assuming a few key issues are addressed during the process.

For a transition to a fully automated society to be successful, that society must first consider options for mediating the unavoidable issue of job loss. This is by far the largest hurdle when it comes to automation, which is reasonable — the first jobs to go once automation begins to break into mainstream society will be the blue-collar ones. Fast food employees, factory workers and heavy machine operators would likely find themselves unemployed as their jobs are given to efficient, precise machine laborers.

Those who face unemployment can take heart knowing that, while their original career paths may be non-existent now, new jobs will be created to fill the newly-formed gap in the workforce. New jobs in the field of computer programming will surely begin to arise out of necessity. Those uninterested in working tech jobs will be able to explore passions they had previously thought financially impossible to pursue. Society may even see another renaissance in the art world. During this transitional period, the government could provide a stipend for the recently unemployed, allowing society to continue surviving as it gets back on its feet. While this would be a new form of social welfare, a safety net could be established with the increased profits brought in by the machines.

Once everyone acclimates to this new system, automation could prove to be a good thing. Industries that subsist through backbreaking human labor could now turn to machinery to get the job done. Sweatshops with grueling working conditions would, ideally, be artifacts of the past.

Another hurdle in the way of further automation is the lack of trust society has for its robot companions. Machinery will be taking the jobs everyday citizens need to survive, but looking past that, the eventual automation of vehicles like cars, buses and airplanes is equally disconcerting. This past March saw the first fatality caused by a self-driving car, and many citizens find flying with their local airline stressful enough when a pilot they trust is at the controls. Automatic piloting is an entirely different beast. The slightest malfunction in an automated system could lead to incredible devastation.

Compounding that, transportation and blue-collar work would not be the only fields to see automation. Professions that carry high risk and require extreme precision — any job in the medical field, for instance — would quickly be taken over by machinery that will theoretically leave no room for error. This sounds like a fantastic idea on paper, but the fear here resides in the fact that a machine lacks the compassionate human element that only a real doctor could provide, and it would be difficult to code for every single thing that could go wrong on the operating table, which could leave people feeling reasonably distrustful.

Then there is the issue of intentional malfunctions. A completely autonomous society would be highly susceptible to cyber-attacks. Today’s engineers already suffer through a plethora of security issues on a day-to-day basis. In a fully automated society, a hacker breaching security could result in the loss of countless lives. The cybersecurity of self-driving vehicles would need to be absolutely airtight, or people would be taking a huge risk every time they choose to travel. Perhaps, as more people turn to computer programming jobs in the wake of this radical transition, society will have stronger security systems.

The government would need to play a role in managing the aforementioned issues. It is the government’s job to ensure society’s survival in an ever-evolving world. A system of checks and balances must be established. Big corporations will be the ones ushering in this mechanical age, and big corporations aren’t historically known for looking out for the good of the public. The government is the only entity capable of holding these corporations accountable for any errors in the system. All this being said, society must, as always, keep a watchful eye on their government, lest high-ranking officials be influenced by the very corporations they are meant to keep in check.

As scary as this change seems to the current generation, it is entirely likely that society a century from now won’t bat an eyelash at these changes. Historically, people fear change and technology is one of the greatest agents of that change. Everyone has a father, or a mother or a grandfather who is frustratingly resistant to new forms of technology. It is quite possible that society’s reservations about making the leap to further automation are a manifestation of those very same growing pains.

The children of today don’t see technology as a bad thing. They thrive amongst it. It is inextricable from their daily lives. The reality is that few kids these days go without their smartphones and tablets, which is a reality that the current working class generation finds difficult to relate to. It is highly likely that the children who will soon inherit this society will thrive amongst in this automated age.

While automation may seem like a terrifying inevitability for workers of today, it may ultimately be a very positive change. It is within societies best interest to move forward with a healthy dose of caution. The risk is great, there is no doubt about that, but the benefits it will afford society are endless. The evolution of technology could allow humans to accomplish things previously thought impossible.

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