Will autonomous machines disable us?

The robots have long been awaiting us. For decades now, the reality of autonomous machines has lingered ahead of us, a world we inch ever close to as the days pass. The past thirty years have bought rapid technological advancements which continue to evolve. From Amazon Alexa to the alarm set on your mobile phone, autonomous machines dominate our day to day lives. Indeed, who would have thought two hundred years ago that little handheld screens would remember when we needed to wake, and ring accordingly so that we did?  

Now, as if machines don’t already do enough for us, they are about to take on more responsibility. Our scientists are racing towards autonomous vehicles, security systems and bodies. Humans are set to step back so that machines can come and do our jobs for us. From cargo carriers to taxi drivers, millions will be affected by this new era of engineering. From Elon Musk’s announcement of robotaxis to Toyota’s $100 million-dollar fund for autonomous vehicles, it seems the race to a robotic world is on.

However, as great as these advancements are, there’s no escaping the reality that they’re putting thousands of people out of work. Key newspaper articles have raised this question over the past few years:

  • Will robots bring about the end of work? – asked The Guardian in 2017,
  • Robots will make majority of humans jobless within 30 years – warned The Independent in 2016,
  • Up to 800M may be left jobless because of robots, study says – revealed Daily Mail in 2017.

The fear of technological unemployment due to autonomous machines is evident. Studies have even gone as far as predicting which jobs will no longer exist by 2030. Among the unlucky are travel agents, cashiers, postal couriers and telemarketers. I, myself have witnessed the integration of machines into a role normally carried out by humans. Banks, for instance, always required customers to see staff when wanting to deposit money into an account. However since 2014, the likes of Santander have installed ATM style devices which only require you to insert your bankcard and cash into the machine. The card is analysed, the money counted and recorded before being deposited into your account. There’s no need to see any members of staff and the process takes mere moments.

And automation isn’t just limited to your banks. The rise of self-checkout systems in supermarkets highlights its growing popularity. In 2013, there were little over 100,000 self-checkout systems worldwide. Since then, the figure has more than tripled with there now almost 350,000 machines operating around the world. In order for this to happen, stores have needed to remove tills (and in turn, cashiers), so that space can be made for the self-checkout systems.

Indeed, all of these machines are signs of technological progression. However, as this new-age evolution takes place, humans are becoming disabled in their own professions with their livelihoods taken away from them. Each of these things distance us from our own abilities just to prove non-humans are also capable of human things.

With cars now starting to drive themselves and houses operating at the sound of our voices, we must think carefully about the direction in which we are headed. As the human race hurtles ahead in this technological age, ambitions only seem to be growing.

But at what cost to ourselves?

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