October 1, 2017 Alan Kepper

What Will the Humans Do?

I have been involved in the technology space for a long time now.  As a result, I get a sense of how emerging technologies might be successful.  I am currently excited about the rapid and significant disruption going on in the world due to digitisation.

The industries that will be part of this digitisation include our industry (IT) with Artificial Intelligence (AI), fast wireless communications, big data, and cybersecurity.  Other industries include drones, health, transport with electric cars, autonomy, rideshare and software-defined cars, to name a few.

In my field of expertise as an engineer, I have visibility of the current technologies, how they work and the next generation of that technology because they are currently being developed in the labs.  However, there are a vast number of areas of expertise where this is occurring globally at an exponential rate.

What excites me the most is that these areas of expertise or technologies are merging and cross-linking to evolve new things at such a fast rate that predicting what the “next best thing” will be, becomes impossible.

One thing I have noticed is that the rate of change is not linear, it is accelerating.  The time for a technology evolution that changes society has been getting shorter over the last 50 years.

Some things will be easier to predict because they are more fundamental.  Industries like energy, food, shelter, communication, and transport will be around, although they will no doubt be different in 5 years.

I see the increasing use of robotics and AI being especially interesting.  These start with drones (air, land, and water), robots in factories and software bots we talk to about our shopping (Siri, Alexi etc).  If I think through what is possible on my technical radar the possibilities are amazing.

What are the 7.2 billion humans going to do?

It got me thinking, however, with all this automation, what are the 7.2 billion humans going to do?

Arguably we have become more in control of our destiny and many of the old power bases have broken down.  We don’t really have famines or major epidemics anymore for example.  If we do we can generally fix the problem.

When drones are doing deliveries, driving us around, making our food, doing the farming, making the cars and so on, what will we be doing?  Do we just sit at home and plug our brains in to connect to each other on the net? Do we need a home?

I have a client that operates a high-tech manufacturing facility that makes dietary supplements where the manufacturing computer system determines what needs to be mixed together and oversees the overall process.  It directs staff on the factory floor via a terminal (like a large watch) what to pick from a specific bay and where to place it.  It does this by giving the human on the end of the terminal auditory instructions via the terminal and an earpiece.  What will be the long-term job prospects of these factory workers?

What of those that are not up with technology?  Do the people that know algorithms, maths, engineering, technology, and science become a higher class of human?  Will this change dislodge many people from their jobs quickly? 

Global Speed

Some countries or states assert tough goals on their societies (themselves) to resolve health or economic challenges or advance more quickly than other countries or states. Will they become more dominant economically?

I note that some countries in Europe or Asia have started the removal of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars in favour of electric ones or establishing timeframes for the transition to nuclear or renewable power systems. The economic benefit in creating new problems domestically to resolve is that they morph into export opportunities for that country/state as other slower economies start to face the same problems later.

For example, a German entrepreneur has built a car charger that goes into a street lamp pole (remove the inspection hatch and replace it with this simple device with a socket).  Charging a car in the street is a problem in Europe but not in Australia, so when we have to sort out cars recharging in the street, we will simply buy that German product.

So I assert that not being bold and setting tough moon shots on ourselves will likely cost our kids jobs.  It’s going to be hard to convince my fellow Australians as we are very comfortable.

The lack of leadership amongst politicians (who we elect to represent us) and our reluctance to put pressure on ourselves will likely put us behind the pace of other countries.  This could be dangerous for our children’s prosperity.  Our kids need to be solving problems to create opportunities in global markets.

I see an interesting confluence of situations.

  • An accelerating (exponential) technical capacity of mankind probably at an upward inflection point
  • A potential class system based on technical knowledge (power of data)
  • Robots/drones doing many of the traditional human work
  • Non-technical people becoming jobless
  • Global economic momentum and shift in power base.

So in our (the technorati geeks like myself) rush to build machines to make life easier or faster and complete on a global level, will we leave the unknowledgeable people behind.  How will they feel?  What will they do?

“Man must have a mission!”