Humanity is at a crossroads, we face both the opportunities and challenges of a range of powerful and emerging technologies that will drive radical shifts in the way we live. The accelerated pace at which technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology, robotics, automation, advanced materials, and quantum computing are developing, is already transforming the systems that we take for granted today. From how we produce and transport goods and services to the way we communicate, collaborate or even elect our governments, rapid technological change—which often happens at an exponential pace—is reshaping how we experience the world around us.
One of the biggest challenges to keeping on top of emerging technology is that the pace of change is too fast. Changes can be made, and they are worth the short-term distraction today to make a real difference going into tomorrow. Richard Baldwin in his new book ‘The Globotics upheaval – Globalisation, robotics and the future of work’, argues that the explosive pace of developments in robotization and telemigration threatens to overwhelm our capacity to adapt. Globotics is made up of two words: globalization and robotics. A globot is a white-collar robot, which is basically a software that automates a job; say for example a chatbot. Earlier, we used to talk to a call center employee and now the chatbot has replaced the person. The inhuman speed of this global transformation threatens to overwhelm our capacity to adapt.
Technological progress is not the only thing rising at an exponential rate. The rate at which newly commercialized technologies get adopted by consumers is also getting faster, too. In the modern world, through increased connectivity, instant communication, and established infrastructure systems, new ideas and products can spread at speeds never seen before – and this enables a new product to get in the hands of consumers in the blink of an eye. When technology enables people from around the world to be a virtual presence in any given office, ‘Globotics’ could disrupt the lives of millions of skilled workers in most countries, including India — much faster than automation, industrialization, and globalization disrupted lives in previous centuries. It’s no secret that most routine-oriented tasks, like scanning databases or compiling lists, can be completed speedily by AI software. But in fact, a Gartner report predicts that by 2022, 20% of workers engaged in primarily nonroutine tasks will rely on AI as well. Similarly, remote workers of the gig economy are able to perform all of the functions of a normal employee from wherever in the world they’re located for a fraction of the cost.“But we know that, while AI-driven white-collar robots are good at repetitive or predictable tasks, they fail at empathy, creativity and making ethical choices,” Baldwin writes in his latest book. Digital life is augmenting human capacities and disrupting eons-old human activities. Code-driven systems have spread to more than half of the world’s inhabitants in ambient information and connectivity, offering previously unimagined opportunities and unprecedented threats. As emerging algorithm-driven artificial intelligence (AI) continues to spread, will people be better off than they are today?