Charles Kettering was one of the most influential inventors of the 20th century. The founder of Delco Electronics and head of research at General Motors held 186 patents in his lifetime, and always had an eye for new tech. "My interest is in the future," he explained. "Because I'm going to spend the rest of my life there."
Kettering died in 1958. His future was distinctly different than yours or mine. He probably couldn't fathom the advances in technology over the last six months, let alone the last six decades.
This week, Amazon announced a plan to open 3,000 stores by 2021. The e-commerce giant promises no lines, no checkouts, and no registers. Just scan your app at the door, pick up whatever you need, and walk out. Critics see Amazon as a market disruptor and job eliminator, similar to self-driving technology companies like Uber and Waymo. If this is the future, what will become of the people paid to work a register or drive a truck?
We're on the cusp of facing a cold reality that we don't seem ready to handle- those jobs are going to go away. Or at the very least, they're going to significantly change, and the sooner we recognize that fact, the better. Conservative estimates predict at least 5 million jobs worldwide will be lost to robotics before those shops open their doors.
We're currently caught in what's called "optimism bias." We know technology is going to change our definition of "jobs," but yet we think OUR job will somehow escape the rising tide. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans believe robots will soon perform most of the work done by humans, yet 80% also believe their job will be unaffected.
I think we need to lean into the idea that we should be working smarter, not harder. Futurists like Tesla founder Elon Musk agree. He predicts advances in technology will allow us to do “Other things, more complex things, more interesting things... and have more leisure time.”
Doesn't that sound good? After all, would you prefer to be cooped up in an office 9-to-5 or work from home? Would you rather be slaving over a grill or designing the burger-flipping machine? Would you like to run a register or program the code for the automated kiosks? I think we can agree on the answers, but it's tough to accept such fundamental changes to our lives. Will new concepts like Amazon's lead to a 4-day work week? A universal income? Something else? Who knows, but we ought to cozy up to those ideas… Because we're going to be spending the rest of our lives in the future.