The revolution will be automated.

alex knight 2ejcsulrwc8 unsplash
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash.

Predicting the future is for historical soothsayers and the modern era doomsday prophets on CNN, MSNBC and FOX news. For them, the sky is always falling; has been for years, decades- forever. What do they know anymore?

The scientific and technological advancements driving humanity forward have grown from significant breakthroughs happening every 10,000 years, to every 1,000, to every 100, to every 10, to an exponential rate of growth that defies any previous precedent in human history.

No one knows what is going to happen. Assuming humanity will stay on the same trajectory on which it currently finds itself is a mistake at this point. The species that spent tens of thousands of years doing nothing but subsistence farming has now split the atom, mapped the human genome, explored Mars, invented the fastest medium imaginable for sharing ideas- that magical elixir which has wrought so many changes for the better.

Preparing for the future, however, has become harder than ever. What student enrolling in college this year can say what sort of job market might be waiting in 5 years?

Futurists predict that as many as 70% of the jobs that currently exist in the U.S. won’t exist in ten years. It might even not be the jobs we think.

Of course factory and assembly jobs have become more and more automated over the past few decades as corporations have done all they could to minimize production costs and maximize profits.

Paying employees is usually one of the biggest fixed expenditures in any large company. It costs employers a significant percentage of their profit margin to recruit, hire, train, retain, and replace quality staff.

The switch to a more automated tomorrow has been accelerated by COVID-19 and the world’s response to it. New positions have been created. Old positions have returned. The milkman is back, only now that helpful individual brings oat milk, bananas and whatever else you need from the store. The rise of home food delivery has become a new cottage industry in its own right.

Self-service kiosks, for everything from applying for credit at a furniture store to ordering food at a sit-down restaurant, have become more and more common. Human cashiers handling all that filthy cash might soon become a thing of the past.

A major liability question arose out of the age of covid and no one seems much interested in finding out the answer.

If you are injured by COVID-19, who is responsible?

If you catch covid at work from a coworker, your boss, a customer; can you sue? Can you make an argument in a court of law if you feel your employer hasn’t done enough to mitigate the transmission of a highly infectious pathogen like COVID-19?

What about customers? If someone shops at your boutique, dines at your restaurant, or rides in your Uber and catches covid, can they sue?

To say that businesses, corporations, organizations and corporate entities of every size and description don’t want to find out is an understatement. They can’t stop the spread of COVID-19; no one can. Not even a military quarantine has managed to contain covid completely.

But companies can be accused of negligence, of not taking appropriate measures to protect their employees and customers. Whatever cleaning protocols, vaccine requirements, masking and distancing mandates businesses use, it might still not be enough. Someone suffering from what is commonly called “long-covid” might still conceivably sue for damages if contact tracing reveals the source of their infection was somewhere a slip-and-fall would be a legal liability.

Automated employees don’t sue. They don’t get sick, the don’t retire, they aren’t susceptible to COVID-19, or lock-down and quarantine measures. They don’t have adverse reactions to booster shots or need social-distancing and testing protocols after a possible exposure.

Human employees do need these accommodations, and fairly often, and may soon need more with the added complication of another year of public school closures causing major disruptions in the labor market.

Across the nation, stores and offices are slashing hours, in some cases closing completely; they can’t find enough staff to stay open. This holiday season has been plagued by a rash of air travel delays and cancellations caused, not by inclement weather, but by industry-wide staff shortages.

The faster the tech industry can automate every job currently done by human beings, according to the reasoning of some, the better. Dreams of a menial-labor free future are what compels tech entrepreneurs like Andrew Yang to champion a universal basic income. They aren’t bleeding hearts; they’re proactive.

People like Andrew Yang know that as more jobs are done by computers and machines, the people who once did those jobs will still need to live in the utopia created from the sacrifice of their vocation.

This is all considered perfectly fine as long as the focus is on factory workers, UBER drivers and fast food cashiers. But the jobs which may soon be replaced might be a bit of a surprise.

AI may soon replace human actors. Advanced computer algorithms and AI can already produce a realistic human face indistinguishable from a real human face. Soon, AI will be able to create live-action movies and television, using “human” composite AI actors who look exactly like our favorite stars of yesteryear, plus some we haven’t even imagined yet. Human actors may be relegated to a sort-of stage-actor role; a niche for people who didn’t think movies were an improvement over the theatre.

AI may also replace attorneys.

Theoretically, an AI supercomputer, with all its vast processing power and ability to analyze vast amounts of data, would be far superior to a human lawyer. A human being, whatever they score on the bar, can have- at best- a passing familiarity with most major points of law and legal precedents, plus a few areas of legal specialty, if they’re good.

John Q. Public, Esq. can never process every conceivable scrap of data which might be pertinent to a defendant’s case, or the state’s attempt to prove murder one- an AI can.

Already, China has created the world’s first AI prosecutor. Based in Shanghai, the system has been taught to identify the area’s eight most common crimes and charge defendants accordingly: Credit card fraud, gambling, reckless driving, intentional assault, obstructing an officer, theft, fraud, and political dissent.

An AI program called “System 206”- esquire, presumably- has already been helping Chinese authorities analyze data in the pursuit of criminal justice cases for some time. System 206 was mostly passive, however, without the ability to charge defendants or suggest sentences.

The new AI prosecutor can do all that and much more. It even has the ability to analyze human language in conversations entered into evidence.

While Chinese researchers have given their project a 97% accuracy score, human rights organizations worldwide have certain doubts about computers that can put people in prison.

To say nothing of a computer than can put people in jail for political dissent.

In the West, the U.S. is struggling with an exceptionally challenging staffing shortage, in a very critical area, which is leading to an explosion of violent and property crime.

Law enforcement agencies, from the local level and up, are having trouble filling their staff rosters. The idea that we might someday see an automation of even those types of jobs is becoming more and more of a possibility.

While the media doomsayers interpret dark portends around every corner, the threats to humanity’s future are likely to be just as unexpected as the threats of the past have been.

Automation, which was already likely to be a lodestar in the new modern economy, has been wildly accelerated by COVID-19 and no one, from Andrew Yang to Xi Jinping, knows how it might end up.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)