Mirror, mirror on the wall… tell me what the future holds

Mike Staton

Mike Staton wrote this post.

Futurists have a tough job.

They have to predict what life will be like decades into the 21st century based on technological changes occurring now. They use their extrapolating skills to envision how technological changes will influence society – the sociological and economic impact on our children and grandchildren later this century or even into the 22nd century.

How well did the futurists of the 1960s see America of 2017? Did they see the fractured, paralyzed nature of today’s political system? Did they see how miniaturized computers would become and how computing power would shoot up beyond their wildest dreams? Did they envision laptops and cellphones that are more wildly powerful than the room-size computers of their time?

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In the earlier Industrial Age, no one worried about safety guards — or pay raises, vacation pay, sick leave, retirement pay and healthcare benefits. That’s why our great-grandfathers initiated the union movement.

Walter Cronkite narrated a 1960s show about what lay ahead for rest of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century. The extrapolations were not always prescience. That’s why I said futurists have a difficult job. We don’t have colonies on the moon and Mars. We don’t have high-speed trains speeding through the American heartland. Nuclear power isn’t king. Fleets of hypersonic passenger jets aren’t winging through our skies.

Still, I see trends today that scare the bejeebies out of me. And to be honest, I hope I’m wrong. Local news stations have been airing what they think are cute stories – like the one about a wheeled robot that carries groceries home for a shopper. Think of the ramifications for society as things like this become pervasive in American society.

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More and more American corporations are bringing robots into the workplace.

Anyone thinking of setting up a grocery delivery system better think again – unless they can afford to buy a fleet of robot deliverers. And if you hope to get hired to be a deliveryman, you’d better reconsider. Not a real danger today, but what about ten or twenty years from now?

In Nevada right now, entrepreneur Elon Musk is building a huge battery factory for his Tesla electric car company. If he succeeds with his car endeavor, America will see an earthquake like shift in what kinds of vehicles travel on the nation’s highways. Musk doesn’t plan to stop with electric cars. He intends to make many of them self-driven. Let’s extrapolate what this could mean for America of 2037.

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Future shock: Robots bring us our food at our favorite restaurant.

Will teamster/truck driving jobs exist twenty years from now? Will there still be taxicab drivers? How about bus drivers? I’m serious. Who needs them when self-driving vehicles exist?

No doubt home-delivered pizza will taste just as good in 2037 as today. But how it gets from the pizza oven to a customer’s kitchen table could be radically different. As is already starting to happen, the pizza will be ordered using an app on the customer’s smart phone or whatever device has taken its place. AI robots prepare, cook and package each pizza. Delivery robots take the boxed pizzas to a self-driving delivery vehicle. When the delivery vehicle arrives at your address, a delivery robot takes your pizza right up to your door and puts it in your hand. You’ll pay using an updated version of today’s check-cashing card. Slide it into a slot on the robot and the sale is officially concluded.

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Ready for robot chiefs and cooks?

Efficient, isn’t it? Cuts out lots of jobs – sales clerks, bakers/cooks, delivery drivers. No need to hassle with salaries and the fringe benefits, things like vacations, sick days, healthcare insurance, 401K payments.

And those pizza boxes? How will they be made in 2037? When I first started working for a training company in the 1990s, paper manufacturing companies like Georgia-Pacific used analog control panels and often relied on entry-level workers to manually open shipping boxes for copy paper, household towels, and bathroom tissue rolls. When I left the profession in 2009, operators were running converting machines like winders, wrappers and case packers and their conveyor lines from digital computer touchscreens. Robotic palletizers and stretch wrappers were already in use at some converting plants. Twenty years from now more advanced wheeled or leggy robots will oversee the winders, package wrappers, case packers, palletizers and stretch wrappers. The shrink-wrapped cases will be loaded aboard self-driven semis. The robots will come with multiple arms and a variety of tools easily attached to those arms. They’ll not only operate the converting machines, they’ll fix broken equipment. No need for operators or maintenance folks in this brave world of 2037. Again, why fret about pay raises and costly fringe benefits? Perhaps the corporate bigwigs will still need human engineers to program the AI software for the robots. Let’s hope so.

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Coming to a street near you. A robot with legs perhaps transporting mail, groceries or gifts ordered online.

There’ll be 370 million of us in 2037. That’s lots of families – and that begs a question. What kinds of jobs will remain for men and women? Lawyers and doctors? Okay, but not everyone can be a lawyer or doctor. The robot revolution in the workplace is going to cause societal upheaval. We need to start planning for it now, not let the 1 or 2 percent and their politician cronies lead us toward a Soylent Green future. Soylent Green is a movie from 1973. Here’s a synopsis from IMDb: “A tale of Earth in despair in 2022. Natural foods like fruits, vegetables and meat are now extinct. Earth is overpopulated and New York City has 40 million starving, poverty-stricken people. The only way they survive is with water rations and eating a mysterious food called Soylent.” Remember the movie? Soylent’s secret ingredient? Yes… us.

The drive to robotize the workplace makes me uneasy. I worry we’re going to revert from economic capitalism to a bastardized version of a medieval fiefdom – a 2 percent aristocratic class and the rest of us peasants. What’s the solution? What’s your thoughts?

# # #

I’m an author with three fantasy novels to my credit – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The books make up a trilogy titled Larenia’s Shadow. A fourth novel, this one a historical romance, is scheduled for publication in October. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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16 Responses to Mirror, mirror on the wall… tell me what the future holds

  1. There’s nothing we can do about this right now, so why worry? Let’s cross the bridge when we come to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You pose insightful scenarios and great questions, Mike. My dad worked for Georgia Pacific back in the 1960s and 1970s; they didn’t have a lot of automation then except for the machines that made the paper, and they used people to run those. The world is vastly different today. I’ve often said I’m glad I don’t have children and grandchildren to worry about, and this is one of those situations in which I remain glad — to not have to worry about them having work, being poor, not having health care, etc. I think you’ve stumbled upon your next book idea!! Thanks for sharing the post. P.S. Greg wants one of those electric cars being created by Musk and his company — he’s fascinated by the man! And, we’re considering buying some of his battery packs for our cabin; we already have solar panels there and are hoping to buy more for which we’d need the batteries and Solar City may be the way we go. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Musk fascinates me too. He’s willing to push the frontier. Here in Nevada, I get the feeling that the solar revolution is getting usurped by the big utility companies. They put campaign money in the pockets of politicians so that they pass laws to hinder startups. The big guys seemingly want to dominate solar in their plodding way.

      Like

  3. Doris says:

    We can always hope that futurist may be wrong, or that we can really be ‘human beings’. Your post does beg a lot of questions and I agree, we need to be talking now. Still, it is not all bad, we just don’t seem to be able to tell which is which right now. *smile* Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I agree. For example, highway deaths will really drop if cars and pickups are automated. Do we need to stress once more ethics and morality in college business and economics classes? Could that be a humane first step?

      Like

  4. Wranglers says:

    Two shows that I really enjoy on TV our Colony and Humans. Colony is about a future in America where everything’s been destroyed except for one section and everyone lives there with controlled water and food. Humans is about Androids that look exactly like people and function like them. Amazon is working on a Drone to deliver packages. I’m glad there are still trucking jobs at least for the next 15 hopefully I will be retired by then. Thanks Mike great blog very thought-provoking. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Neva Bodin says:

    Very interesting blog, and I fear the Soylent could become a reality. In my opinion we are slowly moving toward less thought for others, less respect for self or others, and less intimacy with deep meaning. I read a 1987 Readers Digest I found on my book shelf the other day and was surprised to find an article on keeping students engaged with others in spite of technology. Didn’t think it had been an issue that long. There will always be a faction of people who are concerned and engaged, but what I hear from teachers and employers leads me to fear what will happen when more are out of work, another generation grows up and technology really steals our need for intelligence. Perhaps this possibly unrecognized fear in our young people is why the current trend is to like fantasy and super heroes. They recognize we will need super powers to rescue ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Some interesting ideas you have as well, Neva. I hadn’t thought about the connection with super heroes… so many on TV now. Perhaps we are looking for super beings to rescue us from ourselves.

      Like

  6. Nancy Jardine says:

    I’m not sure I’m ready for all of those robots Mike, but it’s amazing how people adapt so quickly to new technology. You’re right about the rapidity of change and predicting the near future is quite scary. Soylent Green with Edward G R and C Heston made such an impact on me when it came out- I can’t listen to The Pastoral Suite (?) without that poppies in the field image appearing and the euthanasia theme hitting me in the gut.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Remember the 1970s movie ‘Logan’s Run’? State-ordered death of people at age 30? That’s another scary movie… or at least the premise was. And it had Farrah Fawcett and Jenny Agutter. I had quite the crush on her when I was in my twenties.

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  7. S. J. Brown says:

    Computers and robots are slowly invading all work forces. I have a part time job that requires me to interact with a supposedly state of the art computer system. I am reminded daily that there are limits to what computers can do. So I think years from now there will be jobs for people, just tweaked a bit to accommodate for the limitations of advanced systems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I hope you’re right. Artificial intelligence is making strides, I understand. And look what Elon Musk wants to do… here’s the lead of a story in the Wall Street Journal: “Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk wants to merge computers with human brains to help people keep up with machines. … has launched another company called Neuralink Corp., according to people familiar with the matter.” The themes in SF novels, TV shows and movies are becoming reality.

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  8. I also read something interesting in the WSJ. The article was about the new Amazon Go stores that basically keep track of whatever items you pick up and walk out of the store with. It will charge your account on file (you scan a card when you enter). Eliminates cashiers and baggers. It does well if it’s 20 people or less in the store but any more than that and the system gets confused. They tested it in Seattle with Amazon employees and hope to fix the errors so they can go worldwide. I thought it was amazing to even have something like this but it eliminates so many jobs. Plus it would be strange to just pick up items and walk out. Then there is that story about the car crash in AZ involving the self-driving Uber car. It sounds like it wasn’t the Uber car’s fault, but I can’t imagine roads being safe with self-driving cars. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Mike.

    Like

  9. kathywaller says:

    Good post, and timely for me. At a recent Sisters in Crime meeting, a scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory spoke about cyber security; he’d given the same talk (with obvious deletions) at the White House in December. I didn’t leave happy. I looks like everything can be hacked, most of which I hadn’t thought of. A few days ago, the emergency siren in Dallas went off, and on, and off, etc., but no one could see a tornado. The system had been hacked. Just dealing with the menus at the doctor’s office and the pharmacy this morning was enough for me. I think we’re headed for Soylent Green. I haven’t seen the movie, and I know enough about it to know I don’t want to. As I said, I didn’t leave happy.

    Like

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