More than ever before technological development is outpacing people’s ability to keep up. New headlines every week read that a robot will take over your job and recent examples such as Otto’s automated truck delivery of beer prove that as a future it may not be far away.
Arguably these problems have existed for centuries, but today there is a difference. While the industrial revolution removed some skilled work from the manufacturing process it created an abundance of other jobs throughout the country, it created distribution, towns, villages and an entire economy that didn’t previously exist. Today, removing a driver from a truck doesn’t have the same impact. The knock on effect on hospitality, petrol stations and many other jobs could be catastrophic. The White House, in a report to Congress, has put the probability at 83% that a worker making less than $20 an hour in 2010 will eventually lose their job to a machine. Even workers making as much as $40 an hour face odds of 31 percent.
In design and technology we’ve got to a stage where we can build truly great digital experiences that answer all of a user’s known needs in that moment, yet the reliance on humans to sometimes deliver that experience to users can let a service down. How often would you rather interact with your banking app instead of going into a branch?
People need purpose, but is purpose a job?
Will advances in AI, automation and other technologies leave us free to pursue more creative past times? Even with my love of art school I’m not expecting everyone to down tools and head for that fine art degree just yet. Profits would still be important and distributed, but hypothetically they could be achieved through labor sources from elsewhere. Industries of all kinds would benefit from economies of scale, as future iterations of the Internet of Things could create efficiencies we can not fathom. A world where you lease your new driverless car to UBER is just the start.
The company bringing Bazillion Beings to us has offered that while users may derive value from interacting with bots they create, others may as well — in turn paying a small fee to the creators. Politicians have argued around taxing robots in the future in order to provide the finances it may take to prop up societes. Not many of these propositions seem compelling to consumers yet, and certainly aren’t going to either meet their current salaries or skillset.
One potential may be to provide a universal basic income, where everybody in society would receive an income from a government or institution that would allow them to meet a sufficient standard of living. In 2016, Switzerland had a referendum on universal basic income — with 76.9% voting against.
It seems society might not be ready to quit their jobs to focus on creative pursuits. But why is that? Is it a lack of education of inclusivity?
It is easy to see how even as designers, charged to understand consumers, we can become lost within a relentless pursuit of technology and the possible creation of the products we’ve been dreaming about. But today we designers must consider the impact of our ideas on society.
We need to put peoples’ and communities’ needs at the centre of the systems, services, and experiences we create. In doing this we can ensure that those communities have their opportunity to influence and keep up with change. That’s why design (in its broadest definition) is of value to business.
I remember my Dad hating the internet, technology, and hating Amazon. As a child who just wanted a computer like everyone else I didn’t understand. But now as a designer, I understand his love of bookshops, the physicality of a book, the stories and escapism that allowed him.
The world must go on, technology will (and must) continue to disrupt industries, it might just be time to design more inclusively and responsibly.
Side note: I wrote this fast, it's going to be my new thing. Any mistakes tweet @seanmcharg and I'll sort them. Cheers.