Letter from the editor: We Might Need Bigger Backpacks

Shifting Technosphere to fit a technological world

When I took the position as section editor, I had a few goals in mind. One being to shift gears and move Technosphere coverage toward technology and its accelerating effect on the people around me.

I understood, or at least I thought I understood, technology’s effects on me. When a story about technology overtaking white collar insurance jobs in Japan filtered through my social media radar, I wasn’t outraged.

Stories about people being replaced by machines, automation or software have long dominated popular culture. Czech playwright, Karel Capek wrote a play about a factory robot uprising against their human creators in 1921 called R.U.R. or Rossum’s Universal Robots. Mary Shelley first published her novel “Frankenstein” in 1818, more than 100 years earlier.

By the time similar stories about real people losing actual jobs due to technological progress started appearing in the media the 1970s, humans had been conditioned to accept the notion as possible by several generations of speculative foreshadowing.

For a non-traditional student like myself who made the decision to earn a degree for a different white-collar profession, the notion that my next job may become irrelevant because of software, is disconcerting. I had been down that road before. I went to work for AT&T in 1997 and worked in the network operation center where I spent seven years building the network software for voice and data for large corporate clients until the company was able to automate a large portion of my job. Later I worked at Oracle in database administration until the work moved overseas to less expensive segments of the new global workforce.

When Ray Kurzweil said artificial intelligence would reach a point where it is as smart as a human being by 2029, he wasn’t talking about the ability to process insurance claims. He was talking about learning. We can argue about how quickly a machine will become as smart as human beings over a beer another time, but there is no reason to doubt that it will eventually happen.

Those entering the workforce over the next few years face a completely shifted social and economic reality. If Kurzweil is right, in less than half the time it took for the internet to go from hating AOL to hating “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” the fastest growing segments in the workplace will be dominated by machines.

How do you tell a group of people whose self-image relies on their job and money, that both of those things might be completely disrupted before their own children reach middle age?

Over the following issues, we will look at the Tech/Culture phenomenon and see if we can figure out where it’s going. We are going to need all the information we can get if we want to survive robot insurance adjusters. We might even need a bigger backpack.

Read more about technology from Derek Gregory

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