What Does the Future Look Like?

What defines the future? Is it the passage of time? A technological breakthrough? The occurrence of a specific event? How far away are we from that future transforming into our present? This week, I want to throw out a couple ideas on what I think is in store for us, the human race, in the coming years.

One of the fastest approaching changes slated to occur is the transportation revolution. As fewer and fewer people attain driver’s licenses, the concept of car ownership will inevitably change in the process. That’s not to say households won’t still possess a family vehicle, but what if we could just “summon” a car from a provider for day-to-day activities? A vehicle that acted as a service, which the distributor handled maintenence and scheduling. Payments to the service provider would be an aggregate of rental time, vehicle quality, and gas consumed. Platforms such as Uber are the initial test beds for this reality; more and more, regular citizens request rides at their own leisure from the comfort of their smart phones.

To fully transition from the Uber model to the future I speak of, one final element must be removed from our concept of driving: the driver. Removing the man behind the wheel lifts restrictions in scheduling and removes a number of other anomalies we need to account for in today’s taxi system. With the advent of driverless cars, this is no longer a question of if, rather when. Driverless cars also provide a safer, less involved experience for the passenger. Time spent in the car will inevitably become free time. With Cloud integration, you could start a movie on the commute to work, go to work, then continue the movie in a completely different vehicle on the way back. When this idea was first suggested to me, I was unconvinced, but the more I observe other industries, the more I envision this model becoming our reality.

Undoubtedly, automation will lead to a revolution in society. It already has. Choices are hard… In a world where the individual has access to services with thousands of videos and millions of songs, we need algorithms to help us wade through the swamp of content. We do this now for media, but what happens when these algorithms extend out to the more serious aspects of our lives? What if interviews were programmatic, scanning your past work to determine your proficiencies in specific aspects of your field? What if, at an early age, an algorithm analyzed your work and determined your strengths, then provided a specially curated learning path you’d be advised to follow? With our information constantly being fed into equations, companies can and WILL cater their products and services directly to us, the consumer. Our digital footprint leaves companies with all the measurements they need to piece together the perfect-fitting shoe — and that, I regret to say, is not always a good thing. 

Big Data is a phrase thrown around a lot nowadays — in reality, the premise behind it is simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. Riddle me this: Who do you trust more — the employee in the store vouching for the TV or the aggregate 400+ reviews online saying otherwise? Crowd sourcing anything and everything sounds great, but it also sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. Just like the media swamp, products can often become a victim of sheer volume. If you were to search for a new vacuum cleaner on Amazon, how many pages would you flip through before making a decision? If you’re like most people, I’d dare to say that your answer would be one… two if you’re being really indecisive that day. This simplifies the buying process, but what happens to the vacuum cleaners on the other 29 pages of results? What happens when the service owner intentionally floats their own product to the top spots ahead of others? Big Data has the potential to simplify many of the decisions we make, but we need to be cognizant of who’s guiding our hand in the process. Expect a lot of ethics cases on this front.

The job industry will feel the biggest tremors of the automation shake up. Right now, job automation has mostly affected low income, ‘low skill’ jobs. Expect to see most of those phased out in our lifetime. Inevitably, advanced automation will bleed into middle and high income sectors of work. Most people believe that what they do cannot be done by a robot or AI, yet we’ve already seen countless examples where that’s simply not the case. Despite being in its infant stages, Machine Learning has demonstrated its ability to solve some of the most difficult problems. The primary bottleneck, logic, can often be overcome with Big Data or a couple humans behind the scenes knotting out those thought kinks as they arise. Human interaction can be nice, but it’s definitely not a necessity. Look at Amazon! Without moving an inch, I have the capability of ordering just about anything I want and have it be on my doorstep within two days — Guaranteed. Look at what this convenience has done to retail stores! Automation will simplify our lives in many great ways, but moderation and regulation will be essential if we want to balance society.

The last, and most controversial change I want to talk about today is the living wage. With the inevitable automation of jobs throughout the country (and the world), the necessity of people in the workforce will dwindle, as will the variety of fields which need them. The end result of this change will be a spike in unemployment and a swath of previously employed people lacking the expertise needed to transition over to other professions. To make a long story short: more people in the world, but fewer in an actual position to earn money.

When we have less job opportunities than there are people, so much so that the effects are felt by a large percentage of population, the only option we’ll have is to provide a living wage, a chunk of money given to people who are not in the workforce. Don’t be fooled — When this happens, people are going to lose. their. minds. Unless the political divide in America heals before that day comes, there’s no reason to expect nothing short of a civil war. But it will happen… It will have to happen, unless we literally decide to have people do pretend work for the sake of working.

So how do we handle it? How do we prevent the laborless wage system from being exploited and getting everybody on board? Heck if I know. The best plan I could come up with is having states establishing a living wage and having the minimum wage be a fixed premium on that amount. For example, on a 40% increase model, if the living wage was $10 in Alabama, then the minimum wage could be $14. This would result in a $1,120 vs. $800 pre-tax bi-weekly income, a sizeable difference. The other option I thought of is doing it like a reverse tax, where the percent of the living wage one receives reduces as their income level increases. Many on the right would argue that if we give money out for free then no one would work at all, but that ostensibly rejects the notion that the US is a capitalist society. If citizens readily have access to larger pools of money, they’re going to reach for it.

What are your thoughts on my speculations? Do you think they’re sound? How do you think the future will pan out? Comment below, there’s no better time to hold these conversations than the present.

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