Driverless cars. Cashier-less supermarkets. An automated world. This is the brave new future we’ve been promised. But is it as bright and beautiful as it claims to be?
Amazon (you know, that big website where you buy everything from your books to your clothes?) recently opened a brick-and-mortar store in Seattle. Sounds a little counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Amazon is perhaps the top online retailer, selling hundreds of thousands of products that are delivered to your home without you ever having to lift a finger. But now, they’ve opened a store.
There’s a catch, though, and you probably know it already. This is a store without cashiers. People can walk into the store, swipe in their phones, grab whatever items they desire, and walk out without ever interacting with another human being. Cameras track items and deduct the cost from the person’s bank account. No social skills required.
Sounds amazing, right? It’s so futuristic! The computers do everything. You can pop in, grab lunch, and be on your way in minutes. This is the way of the future.
And… what if it is? What if this is the future? What if, in not too many years, all stores are this way? No more cashiers. No more retail jobs. No more human faces you have to pretend to smile at and deal with just so that you can get home and eat your food in peace.
For years, we have dreamed of a fully automated future; self-driving hover cars, robots to pander to our every whim, whatever we want delivered right to us, no human interaction required. We have, dare I say it, been dreaming of a future where we don’t even have to interact with other people, where we are the most important thing in our own little worlds, where we can forget everything else and just satisfy our own wants in the most efficient and effortless way possible.
And if that’s the future, what happens to everyone else?
You probably remember the first job you ever had. And, most likely, it was working behind a check out counter or somewhere in retail. This article says that the most common jobs are in retail or as a cashier. It also predicts that while everyone keeps saying human cashiers are on their way out, that probably won’t happen. ‘They won’t be getting replaced by robots anytime soon’, the writer says. But what if people’s jobs aren’t getting replaced by robots, just eliminated altogether?
The same thing is set to happen in the transportation industry, as more and more companies are working hard on self-driving cars that could leave taxi drivers, and even truckers, out of a job. And that’s the thing. With enough technology, we could eliminate entire sectors of jobs. That’s already happening. Computers are getting smarter and smarter every day. Office jobs can be done from home, without ever needing to see another person. How long until they’re completely eliminated?
Maybe the elimination of these repetitive jobs will drive humanity upward; encourage more people to create art or study philosophy, to get bigger, better paying jobs. But I don’t think so. And there is a huge problem with the concept of automation itself. It assumes that human contact is a bother, a nuisance, a hassle, something that should be done away with, something that causes error and discomfort and annoyance, something that nobody needs. We used to know the names and faces of the people who grew the food we ate. Then, we didn’t. We knew the people who sold or made our food. Until we didn’t. How long until all we know is the inside of our own homes, or our self driving cars, and the pleasant voices of our AI companions? How long until this human ‘nuisance’ is eliminated entirely?
Maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, I’m an introvert! That doesn’t sound too bad.” But it does. Oh, it does. Imagine drifting through an automated world that exists only to please you, to supply you with your favorite items automatically, without hassle. Imagine a world where you don’t speak to anybody outside of your own home, not even for thirty seconds while you check out your groceries, or for a couple of minutes on the bus or in the taxi or Uber. Imagine being cut off from everybody else, isolated from everything except the cheerful, fake voice inside your phone. Does that sound like good future? We’re already half way there. We can already glimpse it.
Do I think that this will be the future? I don’t know. I certainly hope not. We humans were made to have relationships with other humans. No man is an island, no matter how much it may seem like that nowadays. Let’s not take away what little interaction with the outside world we already have. Let’s not insulate ourselves from humanity. Let’s love our neighbors and not hide away from them. Let’s not dream of a future made only to serve ourselves.
Thank you so much for reading this very depressing post! I was just thinking a lot about automation, as it’s been in the news so much, and me and my family were discussing it a bit at dinner. What do you think? Will a fully automated future be good for society, or for people in general? Would you ride in a self-driving car? Would you shop at a cashier-less convenience store? Let’s chat in the comments! ^_^
See you again soon!