Optimism for the Future

April 4, 2018

For as long as I can remember there have been figures in authority positions within my life attempting to instill a sense of fear or concern for the future.  As I have grown older, parents and teachers have given way to business and though leaders with pessimistic views of the future.  During my early years it was the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, the hole in the ozone layer, and threat of a global pandemic.  Since then I have seen an increase in trepidation over the nebulous threat of terrorism, chemical weapons, guns in schools, global warming and many other fears playing on our sense of mortality and lack of control.  At the same time, I have also noticed a rise in anxiety towards technology.

 

In regards towards technology and the future it is nothing new to have a wide spectrum of viewpoints.  George Orwell’s novel 1984 famously predicted a world in which the ruling elite used technology to spy on their citizens to maintain control, and in 1920’s R.U.R. Karel Capek not only coined the term robot he also described the first robot rebellion.  However, these viewpoints were typically counterbalanced by the more optimistic who saw how humanity could incorporate new technology without global destruction.  We have envisioned a future with hovercars, household helper robots, cities on the moon and under the ocean, but more importantly we tended to envision a utopia.  Which of these visions would prove true?  For the most part while our future utopia never materialized, neither did self-inflicted horrors of technology.  As with many things, the truth tended to be somewhere in the middle.

 

Freeman "City Under Geodesic Dome" 1959

 

Let’s examine a specific future technology that is garnering a great deal of press and discussion of late, AI.  I have recently read predictions of AI eliminating 800 million jobs by 2030 1, and that the utilization of AI will cause more negative effects on society than positive.  2  Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have been having a public dispute about the potential future impact of AI with Zuckerberg holding a more optimistic output and Musk stating that AI is “an existential risk for human civilization.”  3 With the pessimistic viewpoints of major business leaders being backed up by studies from reputable firms such as McKinsey it can be difficult to hold an optimistic viewpoint for the future of our society and AI.  There is certainly a sense of trepidation about the worst potential outcomes of AI.  Fear of the loss of jobs, impact on the economy, and transformation of our society, but more so I sense a fear of the unknown. 

 

"Giving Directions to a Radio Controlled Electric Lawn Robot" 1958

 

As humans through much of our evolution it was those who perceived a potential threat and took steps to avoid it who were rewarded with survival and in turn the passing along of their genes.  For our hunter/gather ancestors it made sense to be wary of the dark, of tall grass, and of the unexplained as life often hung on a razor’s edge.  H.P. Lovecraft once intoned, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”  As such it is no wonder that for many of us when faced with new technology or the unknown our immediate response is trepidation, hesitance, and thinking of how best to protect ourselves.  However, I would argue that it was our ability to problem solve, overcome these fears, and in turn push beyond the horizon (which had new dangers and pitfalls) that has led to us becoming the species we are today.  Through careful planning, and an inquisitive mind we have risen up from being an unexceptional species to the global society of today.  What I am saying I suppose is to be aware of pitfalls and dangers, but do not let fear control our lives and our response toward new technology.  Instead work towards an optimistic view of the future.  If there is technology which worries you, take time and interest to learn how it works, perhaps add a new skill, and identify ways in which you can incorporate it into your life.

 

 The Chicao Tribune 1958

 

As a practical example, the prediction illustrated above is eerily similar to how an Amazon fulfillment center operates, however when Amazon employees working in those centers were asked about how they feel working with machines, they reported a higher overall sense of satisfaction.  Not only had they named the machines, but as they would fetch items for them felt as though they were in charge of/managing the robots.  By incorporating and accepting this relatively new form of technology not only has Amazon cut costs but have actually made their workforce happier in the process. 

 

Thanks as always for reading, and apologies for not having a blog for a few weeks.  I have been very busy working on a new company which I’ll be sharing details and insights about soon.  I found a few other prediction images I'd like to share at the bottom of this pieces as I found them fascinating/interesting.  I hope you enjoyed my latest blog and if there is anything you'd like for me to discuss or anything of which you have a question or would like to challenge my thinking, please leave a comment below.

 

 Robot Teacher 1950 Source Unknown

 Vacation House of the Future - Powers 1957

 

 Spaceport of the Future - Powers 1957

 

References:

1 - https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/30/16719092/automation-robots-jobs-global-800-million-forecast

2 - https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/24/alibaba-jack-ma-artificial-intelligence-more-pain-than-happiness

3 - http://fortune.com/2017/07/27/elon-musk-mark-zuckerberg-ai-debate-work/

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