Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Poor Personal Choices & the Coming Machine Era

The other day I was reading an article that claimed robots would be taking over about 95 million jobs from humans in the next 10-20 years.  There were some interesting assertions in that piece so I did some more searching and came across another article that was titled, "Will Robots Make Humans Unnecessary?" From a certain perspective, headlines like these are simply "clickbait".  This term is used to described headlines that draw the attention of people to content that would not otherwise be enticing.

While I don't believe that the world will be ruled by machines anytime soon, I think that the trend is a legitimate one.  Given what I've just said, we might ask ourselves why this shift is occurring.  As the second article says above, why have the number of workers employed in manufacturing jobs dropped 31% over the last 40 years?  The answer lies in the way that humans behave.  Let's look at a few examples of certain types of behavior that most would consider "poor".  Ask yourself if you've either committed or observed any of them.

  1. As you drive in traffic you notice an accident on the other side of the road.  You slow down to see "if anything happened", at the same time causing a ripple effect of slowdowns behind you.
  2. A person goes to bedd too late and comes to work the next day tired.  They proceed to turn in less than top-notch work.  The result is that some of the effort must be re-done or the finished work product is of less quality than it should be.
  3. A person is in an angry state of mind and allows those emotions to negatively impact an interaction with a customer.  The customer decides to move to a competitor.
  4. An airline pilot makes a mistake in routine flying procedures causing an incident with the plane.
  5. A check-out clerk at a store incorrectly prices or fails to scan an item resulting in an incorrect total.  The store loses money.
  6. A package arrives on a person's doorstep that, while properly addressed, was hand delivered to an incorrect house two lots away from the intended destination.
  7. A typo in an accounting entry causes a transaction to be off by a factor of 10.  The person who committed the erroneous transaction blames it on a "system error".
  8. A worker at a famous fast food restaurant decides not to wash his hands after leaving the bathroom.  As a result, an outbreak of e-coli causes tremendous disruption to the business.
  9. A heart patient continues to eat fatty food and smoke after surviving a triple heart by-pass surgery.

Of the nine examples above I believe that all of us can identify with at least three.  Maybe not personally, but we each would have knowledge of them occurring.  They all illustrate examples where humans routinely cause disruption, lower quality results, or poor output - all of which are the result of poor choices.  Is it no wonder then that many businesses have looked for ways to automate processes or remove the "human element" from the equation?

I do not believe that robots and machines will ever replace humans in the sense that they will "take over" our world.  What I do believe is that the inability to remove poor choices from the human experience will continue to drive companies all over the world to find ways to mitigate the resulting problems that arise.

I've recently written about transportation being one of the biggest problems and opportunities of our modern era.  If ever there was stage to illustrate the cause and effect of poor (human) choices, it is in the daily traffic found in every city around the world.  That's why we have already seen the advent of the driverless car.  With computers in charge of moving cars in heavily congested cities, traffic jams will become extinct.  It doesn't mean that people will no longer drive cars, it just means that driving will take on a whole new (streamlined) form, augmented by automated machines.

Just like the Luddites of the early 1800s, humans will adapt in the coming decades to embrace whole new ways of work and play.  Making poor choices is just a part of the human condition and can oftentimes tied to emotion.  With machines more integrated into many parts of our lives, we can become more fully who we are as species.  It may sound scary, but the next era we enter - the Era of the Machine - may be the happiest healthiest time we have ever experienced.

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