What is an automated society?

Here is an easy prediction for the future: automation will continue. And here is a difficult question: what will that lead to?

Woman wearing visor smiles while reaching out for robotic arm
Michael Björn

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

Have you ever had this experience: at work one day you are being tasked with driving a digital change project, and the next day you are at the receiving end of yet another routine being changed. Although you know it will raise the competitive advantage of your company, and everyone will be better off, you privately think there’s a lot of change to keep up with all the time.

Then, the clock strikes 5 PM and you leave for home. There is a bit of road congestion on the way, but you hardly notice as you engage the car’s semi-automatic drive and enjoy a “Four-legged Friends” photo show featuring your dog that your phone has automatically prepared for you.

Once home, you ask Alexa to order a pizza and practice a battle royale game against stock opponents on your console while you wait.

And then it strikes you. It isn’t happening just at your workplace, but everywhere. Automation is revolutionizing how we interact with the world, and how the world interacts with us. And that means all of society is changing. Of course, a lot of it is very convenient and good. But it is a bit scary too.

It is quite easy to conjure up dystopic visions of robot or machines prowling the streets, controlling everything. But that dark vision can quite easily turn rather comic, such as with the Perecptin Intelligent Vending + Advertising Machine. I’m not sure I want to buy a can of soda from a billboard on wheels!

Speaking of wheels, it seems that the autonomous car industry is finally waking up to the idea that people won’t disappear from the streets. And sometimes, they might even dare to venture outside machines, and be, you know, just walking around.

We highlighted this already back in late 2016 with our Pedestrians Drive Autonomous Cars trend, but it has taken until know for a company like Ford to step forward and ask for a common language for self-driving cars. That is, not for cars to talk with each other, but actually for communicating their intent to pedestrians and others. So will we finally see cars with big arms waving to people to let them know it is OK to cross the street? That would be fun!

And who will ensure that different autonomous processes are all compatible with each other so that chaos doesn’t ensue? I think we will see some trial and error in this area, given that the technology is getting quite advanced and autonomous behavior will be quite hard to predict.

Take for example the idea that we will have drones that are tethered to power lines in order to not have to carry around large batteries. Basically, it would be like turning trams upside down, so that the drones follow routes laid out by to power cables below rather than above them. Maybe even the same power cables could be used for both trams and drones! In any case, it sounds like an interesting idea. But what if some kids are flying a kite in a park nearby, and it gets tangled up with the drone tethers?

These are just some examples for why it is high time for us to start a broad discussion about what we want an automated society to look like – not one that only focuses on automation itself but also takes on the societal aspects. And by that I mean a discussion that starts from the perspective of people: what are our hopes and fears, as well as our needs and expectations?

Although covering only a few aspects of this vast topic, Ericsson ConsumerLab’s Ten Hot Consumer Trends 2019 is very much aiming to be part of such a discussion. The trends covered in the report range from devices that become aware of us as individuals and act accordingly, to people who expect to go to mind-gyms to practice thinking.

Take a look and join us in the debate!

Where should the reader go/what should the reader do next?  - go to Ericsson’s WPDI page


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Michael Björn
Michael Björn is Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab at Ericsson ConsumerLab and has a PhD in data modeling from the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
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