Weekend question: where will automation take us by 2033?

machinery_Lars PougmannHow do you think automation will transform society over the next 15 years?

I wanted to pose this question for general discussion today, rather than to offer my own take (which is still in process, and part of the book in progress).

In order to stir things up, I’ll offer the following options for you to choose among.  Not in any particular order:

A) Significant unemployment and underemployment will result as automation fails to create new jobs to succeed the ones it replaces.

B) New types of jobs appears in response to emerging technologies and practices, as they did through most of the Industrial Revolutions.

C) Humans increasingly feel unease or panic at being rendered obsolete.  This manifests in various cultural and political forms. (Classic Twilight Zone episode excerpts here.)

D) Income and wealth inequality grows immensely, as businesses involved in automation generate and accrete enormous financial power.

E) Very little change will occur, because AI is overhyped and robotics are too limited in practical application, at least in this timeframe of a mere 15 years.

F) Some form of universal basic income will be implemented. (Here’s an interesting podcast interview with UBI proponent and apparent 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang.)

robot throws hand up_CogdogG) A data-based surveillance dystopia is installed, grounded in ubiquitous technology and guided by governments and/or business.  Cyberpunk science fiction might give us insights into how this could develop.

H) A new arms race breaks out between nations to see who has the best AI.  This could be by comparing single projects, like Watson, or a larger sense of national capacity.

I) A major backlash emerges against automation for various reasons, leading to a major social step back from AI and robotics.  Mark Ulett (Toehold Learning) imagines marketing or consumer campaigns where people advertise AI-free products and services, along the lines of today’s anti-GMO labeling. (I have half-jokingly referred to this as a Butlerian Jihad)

J) A very pleasant time will result, when we don’t have to work so much, our basic needs are met, and we are freer to develop ourselves.  (For a somewhat tongue in cheek example, read this.  For a fun meme version, click here.)

You can pick one or several of these options as you see fit.  If you have time, please add a few words about why you selected your choice(s).

If you’d like more brain fodder for this question, try Peter Frase’s “Four Futures” (2011).

circuit_Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

Several days ago I published early versions of this prompt to Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.  I appreciated and learned from comments on those platforms.  For example, Karen Bellnier (Community College of Rhode Island) imagined a version of I) on LinkedIn:

I wonder if rather than ‘backlash’ we will continue to see a growth in ‘crafts’ – gardening, carpentry, brewing, cooking – things that require human creativity, judgement, and benefit from the variety of approaches and tastes – in balance with many things that are ‘generic’/constant from the automated services. With time and resources removed from making every item the same way, humans invest in creation.

On Google+ Tim O’Brien (The Belated Nerd) amplified C), envisioning

[u]nease until those generations brought up in an age when factory work was a lifetime, fairly high paying career path have finally retired or died off. That process will take at least another 15 years.

On Facebook Joe Murphy (Kenyon College) reminded us that whichever option or options appear, they will manifest unevenly across time and space.  On that same thread my former student Cassandra Ratcliff added this expectation of J): “A society with an increasing sense of entitlement, which leads to a long list of other issues…”

Great game designer Greg Costikyan added another, darker and pithily phrased option:

Dystopian starvation by the vast majority of the population as the 1% toast each other with Moet & Chandon

Call it option K) if you choose that one.

(You see why I practice hosting these conversations online?  What fine ideas and feedback!  What a variety of people and perspectives.)

(machinery photo by Lars Plougmann; circuit photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemannrobot with hands up by Cogdog; )

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1 Response to Weekend question: where will automation take us by 2033?

  1. mkt42 says:

    2033 is only 15 years away so even under the scenarios predicting the most change there’s not much that can occur. Consider how job markets changed in the first 15 years of the world wide web, 1991-2006, or how much they’ve changed in the last 15 years, 2003-2018. Some traditional media such as newspapers and the music recording industry have come under heavy economic pressure in that time, but for most of us and most of society things did not change very radically.

    So by 2033 we’ll only be able to see the beginnings of where automation will lead us. And there will probably be zigzags along the way; in the 15 years after the introduction of the WWW, Amazon became a big deal but Pets.com did not; MySpace in 2006 was riding high but Facebook was starting to come along. Google glasses failed to take off but IPhones did. So whatever we observe in 2033 might be misleading in terms of the true destination of the economy.

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