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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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.