What Does An Automated Future Look Like?

It used be that automated cars only existed in the movies. Fleets of stealthy, sleek drones were some sort of myth, and human-like forms of artificial intelligence only existed in comics and sci-fi movies. That future, which once seemed possible only in some distant version of Earth, is in fact quickly becoming reality. As technology continues at these extreme levels of unchecked growth, especially over the next decade or so, more and more sophisticated forms of automation are sure to be introduced into society.

But what does an automated future look like? And who will it affect?

An Automated Onslaught

Automation has changed—drastically. What started as an idea associated only with manufacturing tycoons like Henry Ford and Lee Iacocca (Chrysler) has now moved into complex fields such as aeronautics, oil, gas and medicine to name just a few. It seems the more complex technology becomes, the more dispensable the human work force. In fact, a 2013 study completed by researchers at Oxford University determined that as many as 47 percent of all jobs in the America are “at risk of 'computerization.'” 

And more recently, technologists at Pew Research Center posited that drastic advances in both computer and robotic technology will result in an overall net displacement of jobs within the coming decade. Americans are fully aware of these trends, but their feelings on this “revolution” seem to create a dichotomy of sorts. According to a Pew poll in the summer of 2015, more than 65 percent of Americans acknowledge that their jobs could likely be performed by some form of robot by the year 2065. However, the contradiction arises when the subject becomes a bit more personal, as Natasha Lomas of TechCrunch notes: 

“[When] the question becomes specifically about the future security of their own jobs, respondents’ views are very different, with an even larger majority (80 percent) convinced their own jobs and professions will remain largely unchanged and will exist in their current form 50 years from now.”

This automated revolution appears to be a viable reality, but Americans are choosing the “It won't affect me” approach. 

Let's take a look at a few industries that could be affected by the rapid rise of automation.

Transportation

Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic ideal. Major manufacturers such as Mercedes, BMW and Tesla have all either released or announced plans to release specific automated features that will provide their vehicles the ability to self-drive. Google's self-driving cars have now covered more than 1.5 million miles of road and are currently jetting around roads in four major metropolitan cities. And while this technology may seem fantastic – we can drink coffee and read the paper on the way to work! – it threatens the jobs of millions of Americans in the transportation industry. 

Consider Americans who work for taxi companies or transportation networks such as Lyft or Uber. With all aspects of your journey automated from request to pick-up to drop-off, there would remain no need for the drivers themselves. This would likely mean layoffs in the millions: Uber currently employs more than 160,000 drivers and represents only a fraction of the industry when considering major metropolitan cab companies, plus competitors such as Lyft and Juno.

Going deeper, long-haul transportation jobs would be at risk as well. Even though the industry has remained relatively unscathed by the most recent automation revolution, it's in no way immune. Self-driving trucks would not only cut costs for all major shipping companies in the country, it would, ideally, significantly decrease the number of fatal crashes suffered in truck collisions every year. Rachel Nuwer, a writer for the BBC, explains: 

“Critics point out that, should this breakthrough be realised, there will be a significant knock-on effect for employment. In the US, up to 3.5 million drivers and 5.2 million additional personnel who work directly within the industry would be out of a job.” 

These losses also do not factor in the thousands of jobs in truck stops and filling stations that would practically disappear overnight. So, in reality, self-driving cars and trucks might remove millions of jobs from the American economy—a significant dent indeed. 

Medicine

As odd as this sounds and as far-fetched as it may have seemed even 10 years ago, jobs in hospitals and doctors office are already being filled by our robotic counterparts. As technology begins to become more advanced and complex, certain operations and aspects that once appeared problematic or even impossible now become mundane and routine.

Robots and artificial intelligence have been assisting in surgeries for years now. David Rosa, the founder of Intuitive Solutions, has been creating and selling robots for surgeries since the late 90s. The attitudes that have surrounded these remotely operated, almost crane-like “robotic arms” and tools have evolved, and what was once crazy has now almost become commonplace. Since the company's inception, the company has sold more than 2,500 robots to hospitals all over the world and reported revenues exceeding $2 billion in 2013. In an article for CNN, Rose explains where the future of medicine could be headed in his mind: 

“I can imagine being a surgeon in San Francisco and working on a patient in another state, even New York.”
While these robotic tools are amazing, they still cannot act on their own—not yet. They must still be operated by a masterful surgeon who has completed years of schooling and residency, and been a part of hundreds of surgeries. 

The Automated Age

With the exponential advancement of technology, it seems we're coming closer and closer to the brink of an automated revolution. Whether we admit it or not, our world will look very different in 2030 than it does right now. Self-driving cars and robotic surgeons were fantasies in the 1980s and 1990s. Thirty years later, they're quickly becoming reality. So, what will the world look like in another 30 years? It's very intriguing to imagine!

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