"Technology" and the "future." These two words generally conjure up feelings of optimism, warm feelings and excitement. This year, for the first time I can recall, these words may not mean universally good news. After having attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, the news regarding the future and technology as well as future technology is mixed at best.
The good news is, life is about to get much simpler. The progress made from using landlines to using mobile phones may be matched or even eclipsed with the rise of the "internet of things." Everything we do, every product we use and anything else we can imagine will soon be online. This means we will soon be able to brew a cup of coffee from thousands of miles away while simultaneously cutting off power or gas to the same house in which the coffee is brewed. Many firms presented their takes on IoT, as the "internet of things" is often abbreviated. While the verdict is out as to who will be most successful in getting everything online, what is certain is that this will happen.
Connecting everyone and everything is good news for practically all. A startup I visited at CES called Aira offers users "live agents" that see through the eyes of the visually impaired through smart devices that stream what the user is "seeing." The agent then relays important information about the surroundings to the user through a voice connection. This could be anything from reading street signs to directing a user in an airport to their gate. Seeing guide dogs do a great job in helping the visually impaired negotiate physical terrain and Aira appears to pick up where they've left off. This technology will also lead to greater productivity and increased employment. So an overall win-win-win scenario.
Another startup called Tanvas has added "texture" to screens by stimulating the user's fingers with electrical signals. These signals give the sensation of "touch" to a user navigating an otherwise flat tablet screen. The applications for such technology are endless are include redefining braille so anyone who may not necessarily be able to "see" the screen may be able to "read" it through touch.
CES also showcased many monitoring services that do everything from monitoring blood-sugar levels in real-time, warning diabetes patients, to monitoring baby diapers to help keep him or her dry. This same technology helps to keep tabs on home and work when you are away.
A startup called Hologram offers sim cards that work virtually all over the globe in connecting IoT devices to the internet. This means not only will the cost of being connected decrease but the national borders that currently restrain and restrict devices from efficiently traveling among countries will virtually disappear.
Drones were also very hot at CES as they continue to advance dramatically every year even as their costs decrease. More powerful and smarter drones are already being tested as delivery agents and as drone technology improves, getting goods from point a to point b will become much easier.
Another startup called Foldimate was marketing a device that automatically folds and partially irons clothes put in the machine. This means no more folding and ultimately no more ironing. While the product was meant for home use, an industrial model will surely follow shortly.
These devices and technologies will undoubtedly change our lives in the very near future. They will also eliminate the need for millions of jobs currently being done by humans. This will mean an imminent global decrease in the number of people employed in manual labor.
How are governments preparing to address the needs of these millions or potentially billions of people who will be replaced by advancements in technology? My guess is most governments have not even become aware of this major threat to unemployment looming on the horizon.
The future we face will be one even more dominated by technology than today. Massive re-education programs will need to be launched and ultimately a minimum basic income must be adopted. There will be people whose loss of livelihood will be irreversible and society needs to ensure that these people are taken care of. While altruism might be a good reason to adopt such measures, a minimum basic income makes sense economically. Only through "buying" the time of people whose jobs have become obsolete can governments "invest" in their people-people who may ultimately discover the next great advancement in technology during their new-found "free time." Such advancements will only continue to benefit all of mankind making the world more efficient.
The future may not be that bad after all.