All around us. I’m not talking about some apocalyptic meltdown or the often suggested idea of computers taking over and somehow getting rid of us. It is something more subtle than those scenarios, a slowly cooking stew that is gradually making our lives as they are now redundant. Some will view this as a good thing, others as not but it is certainly a Thing that cannot be denied. Some will cite global warming, potential pandemics or war as more serious threats but these are all things we can potentially do something about. When it comes to technological development the plug will never be pulled. What we have to learn is how to live with it.
If you’re not sure about this take a look around. Notice how shops and bank branches are closing. Notice how you are doing more and more things online via your phone or device. Notice how supermarkets are increasingly using self- service check outs and swipe as you go round devices. There is a self -driving car being developed. There are huge warehouses in which products you buy online glide along conveyer belts and onto trolleys with hardly a person in sight. The demise of physical cash is on the horizon. There is talk of `self- service schools` where lessons take place on line at home negating the need for school buildings. Many, many jobs no longer exist because software can do it instead of a person. All of these things- and many more we probably don’t even know about- taken together represent a massive change to our lives and especially to those of future generations.
Flip forward a further twenty years to 2036. What jobs will there be for graduates and school leavers then? If technological change continues to advance- and medical developments mean we are living longer- do people of the future face a life of leisure? If so how can it be funded? Our entire society is based on people paying tax on earnings and spending- if there are no earnings because most jobs are no longer needed, how will we fund things in future? Then there’s the very idea of a leisure life. What surely drives us on is achieving something, whether in work or outside work or any way. If all we have is decades of holidays our minds will surely grow soft and uninspired and we’d all be very selfish.
There is a theory called technological determinism which suggests that society’s structure and values are driven entirely by technology and this has never been as accurate as it is now. What should surely go along with it- and seems rather lacking at the moment- is a strategy regarding how we might deal with these changes. If there is to be a less work orientated future in which most tasks can be undertaken by technology what will we do and more importantly how will we be able to afford to do it? The nightmare scenario otherwise is a society plucked right out of a sci-fi dystopia with a small rich elite and a mass poor. We can’t blame technology or its inventors but we need to match their innovation with some social innovation of our own or we might end up stranded in some unsatisfying existence.