As the ability to automate various functions in everyday life increases, more people are beginning to worry about becoming obsolete in the new economy.
Industry news has everyone from accountants to restaurant staff on the chopping block. And in a society that values work above practically all else, losing one’s place in the economy is a terrifying thought.
Automation will undoubtedly pose a threat to some jobs. And yet, automation isn’t perfect.
For instance, I know of a tech company in San Francisco that was using software to pull their revenue from different zip codes. But there were two zip codes in San Francisco and San Jose that overlapped, and the software didn’t know what to do. So, it didn’t register anything from that area, which happened to include a substantial amount of revenue. If a human hadn’t double checked the report, key numbers would have been missed.
New technology is great at using an input to create a certain output. But that always leads us back to the idea of “garbage in, garbage out.” Many of these systems are still created by humans, who are imperfect and prone to mistakes.
But sensors break. Systems encounter unfamiliar situations. Technology opens up new, unforeseen issues. And humans are necessary for solving the problems automated services can’t.
To ignore the human element in tech is to miss the larger point: Technology should be about empowering people to live their best lives, not making them fearful of the future.
Technology changes the fabric of society, and it’s up to people to adapt.
You could write a book on the industries “disrupted” by the internet. But you couldn’t sell it at a Borders bookstore anymore.
Even though jobs were lost during the rise of the internet, the amount of new positions and opportunities created during that same period has been massive. Not only new jobs, but new ways of finding those jobs, undergoing training, and learning about emerging industries. And you can do it all on the little rectangle-shaped computer sitting snugly in your pocket right now.
It’s true, there will be fewer positions available in some industries in the near future.
Certain functions that used to require a human touch are now easily automated. Think surgery, travel booking, and manufacturing. But with advancement comes new opportunities for people who seek them. It isn’t an easy idea to wrap your head around if you’ve been doing the same job for 20 years.
That’s why people need to understand how technology will affect their jobs so they can adapt and find upcoming niches and roles to fill.
Innovation gives people the opportunity to work differently.
One of the most trending technologies, blockchain, is about radical change and new ways to interact. Much like the shifts wrought by the internet, blockchain will give people innovative methods to cross paths, talk, and collaborate.
Think about how quickly long-held beliefs have changed in the age of the internet. Your parents taught you to never talk to strangers, let alone get in a car with one. But you’ve likely become comfortable hopping into Ubers without compunction. The Uber sticker on a windshield has replaced the yellow cab as a signal of trust. All you do now is exchange names and away you go.
People even trust strangers to speak intelligently about industry matters online.
I have friends on Twitter whose real faces I’ve never seen, whose real names I do not know, but we go back and forth exploring the crypto space and the blockchain’s potential use cases all the time. And I have no reason to doubt their legitimacy.
Governments are also opening up to technology. Estonia now allows people to pursue an “e-residency,” a nod to the fact that more people are living the life of a digital nomad, traveling wherever they want while working from a laptop.
In the early 90s, it was impossible to predict how the internet would change the world. And right now, it’s at a similar point with emerging technologies.
People are shining flashlights into darkened rooms, trying to get some sense of how the blockchain, machine learning, AI, and other inventions will affect the way everyone lives and works.
But there has to be room for the human element to prevent complete automation.
With technological advancements comes change. Rather than avoiding new technology for as long as possible, and then accepting the inevitable, people need to be actively thinking about how it will change us as individuals and as a society.
Take your phone for instance. The social media, gaming, and news apps are built to keep you addicted so companies can collect data on you. They’re designed to be used constantly so you back for more the instant you feel the slightest twinge of boredom.
And yet, other apps — sometimes the same ones I just mentioned — allow you to instantly communicate with people around the world. Loved ones, colleagues, old friends — they’re all within reach now.
Make any technology decisions carefully, because their impact down the road may be tremendous.
This is part of the reason why there’s been a push lately for ethics to be a required part of any computer science or vocational training program. And it makes sense. If people want to create ethical systems, they need to remember that actual humans are behind them. People make bad choices sometimes. They make mistakes. They aren’t perfect.
And only by embracing and coming to terms with that universal truth will the tech industry be able to ensure the technology created reflects the best of human nature.