Will future technology cause us problems?

Will future technology cause us problems?”

It’s highly likely that you’re reading this article on a smartphone or tablet of some sort. If not, then it’ll be on a laptop, PC, Mac or similar. And we’ll guess that you’re going to be using that smartphone, or tablet or whatever in your hand to book flights, buy cinema tickets, pay for something or even arrange your next important appointment within the next week or so. We’re slowly but surely getting to the stage where absolutely everything we do needs to be facilitated digitally. Even our governments and public services are taking big steps to ridding themselves of paper, with the humble A4 page swapped for one made of pixels. 

This is definitely a good thing. It means we’re wasting less paper and we can do things faster. But it also leaves us wide open to disaster. Ever forgotten your mobile phone or contactless bank card? For many of us that means our whole world grinds to halt, or even worse, we can’t see what everyone else is up to on Instagram. 

There are much wider ramifications though. A complete overreliance on technology is already becoming the norm, and it’s way more serious than arriving at a restaurant that doesn’t accept card. An overwhelming amount of online activity, including things like online banking, input of sensitive information like passport details and home addresses, as well as the photos and personal artefacts we send over the internet like photos, are just waiting to be stolen, disrupted our otherwise lost into the ether. We’re so reliant on things like undersea cables, that if there was any disruption to our national internet network the country could potentially just stop working. And that’s just one of the long list of threats that could happen tomorrow.

The future could become even more problematic. What happens if all of our stored data goes missing? Or our iCloud photos are suddenly shared for everyone to see? (Ok, that happened already) Well, we’re really going hammer and tong at the whole online storage thing. The cloud, that magic invention designed to cut out unreliable hard drives, is essentially just a bigger set of hard drives somewhere with a constant internet connection. And we’re storing a lot more data via cloud. Google’s Drive function alone currently has 800 million users, storing around 2 trillion files, and is expected to grow by anything up to 30% by 2020. Then there’s the ‘big data’ we don’t see, including the things we pay for digitally, the footprint we leave behind as we go from place to place and are tracked by everything from apps to social media logins, and even the phone calls and messages we send. Being so digital could cause problems if an internet connection ceases to exist, and things will only get worse as we do even more online. 

Then there’s the problem with artificial intelligence. We’re already filling our homes with Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home Assistant and Apple’s Siri, as well as the unwanted cousin Cortana. We’re already ordering shopping, setting reminders, controlling the lights and even asking for music suggestions using AI that would have been terrifyingly sci-fi 15 years ago. But Alexa won’t threaten to kill you anytime soon. That’ll be the imminent mobile robots with built-in tech like Alexa. 

We’re already there. Fabio the Robot debuted in a posh supermarket in Edinburgh earlier this year, designed to help customers and generally be a friendly face. It was sacked after one week in true British fashion after scaring, annoying and generally weird-ing out customers. Fabio may be a joke now, but it shows we’re getting closer to the days of robot assistants. 

The media may be having plenty of fun at the moment by whipping up concerns about our jobs being taken over by robots, but it’s already an issue that has been around for many years. Cars, ships and other large bits of engineering have been built by robots for years, and it’s likely the vast majority of products you buy are put together by a computer. Oh, and we have robotic combine harvesters, tractors and spreaders that are driven by a computer, working off satellite data. The robot revolution isn’t really new.

The big jump however is when robots start entering the service industry. Naturally, a civil servant or secretary needs to have human skills, but when Alexa becomes Alexa 10.0 with added emotional understanding and empathy, then that’s when hotel managers, supermarket workers and parking ticket wardens need to start thinking about a new job. 

Even our friendly casino croupiers aren’t safe. The idea has already been floated, and a robot that doesn’t get tired, make mistakes and can take endless grief from drunk gamblers is an exciting prospect for many casino owners. You won’t see a robot dealer for a while yet but you won’t be surprised to hear that if you game online, you’re already being looked after a computerised croupier that never gets it wrong. Live casinos do employ humans, they do this to re-create the experience that is found in land-based casinos, so when land-based casinos begin to employ robots, it could spell the end for the live casino dealers, regardless of how talented they are. 

If you’re losing sleep over the fact that you’re becoming too reliant on technology, then luckily there are still plenty of ways to you can still maintain a normal life if the internet does eventually cease to exist thanks to cyber-attacks or a general breakdown in society. Instagram becomes photo albums. Online streaming becomes a trip to the video store- oh, sorry that one’s gone. Tinder becomes a drink in a bar and lots of awkward conversations before someone wants to talk to you. There’s a nice list here. 

In the meantime, buy some gold, always carry cash and start learning how robots work. They’ll still need servicing, and you’ll be able to switch them off when they start planning a takeover.

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