Another year flies past…
If you go into a branch of McDonald’s these days (an occasional guilty pleasure, I’ll admit it), then you are increasingly likely to find that the restaurant has been upgraded to the new automated model. Big touch screens enable customers to place their orders, pay, and then queue up to receive their food (or even, in some places, sit at a table and have it delivered).
This is the nightmare scenario for automation.
Human beings made subservient to the machines, and the machines being used to replace humans in areas where we are supposed to be good (interacting with one another) as opposed to the places where machines are supposed to be good (lifting and shifting inanimate objects from one place to another).
Of course economics underpin much of this. Low-paid staff are often provide low-quality customer service. So if the service is ropey, and the machines are cheap, you can provide the customer service to a slightly higher quality, and shift the human resource to do things for which the machines are too expensive (at the moment). The robots will take over not by being better than us, but by making us worse.
This is our choice. As we enter into 2017, the year after the most chaotic 12 months in my lifetime, there will continue to be much talk about robots and AI and machine learning and automation. The choices to be made are choices made by humans. The hype that will be spun will turn to disillusionment in the short term as “the latest, greatest” technology turns out to not deliver quite in the way in which it was sold. Longer term, the world will be hugely different in ways only a lucky person can predict.
As I wrote earlier this year, technology doesn’t shape the future. We do. I’m going to try to keep that in mind throughout the year ahead.