Like the closing sequence in a 1950s cheesy sci-fi movie, the robots have been defeated. As the music fades the mechanical invaders retreat over the hill into the sunset, carefully leaving open the opportunity of a ‘return’ sequel in a couple of years.
It seems like ancient history now, though actually only a few months ago, that the mighty McKinsey warned of an impending battle that would see the robots destroy up to 800 million jobs worldwide. In fact, it wasn’t so much a warning as they made it pretty damn clear we’d already lost and any retaliation was futile. Funny how fear of the robots has evaporated now that Covid 19 has arrived bringing with it vastly more devastating unemployment numbers right across the planet.
Oh how the press love to crank up the fear machine with their daily doses of bite sized doom to spice up our cornflakes. There’s nothing new about this. Take a look at these Der Spiegel front covers over the years. It’s almost as if, god forbid, when the economy looks reasonably stable the robots rise up to threaten our fleeting state of complacency.
Looking back barely a couple of months, it seems we’d become rather hysterical. The Youtube videos of rogue robot dogs or metallic humanoids battling to the death their own crazed creators, it all fed directly into the Frankenstein narrative that clearly sits deep within our DNA. (Even if most of the videos were CGI fakes) Yes, humans have long understood they’ll be the architects of their own demise.
Or consider the robot bricklayer. A genuine multi-million dollar prototype of a cross between a forklift truck and a skittle machine from a fifties bowling alley. Watch it build a wall (badly) as it trundles along (perfectly even rails) whilst carefully being monitored (refilled and cleaned up after) by its non-robot workmate. Genius.
For over a decade, happy supermarket shoppers were warned to watch out for the robot shelf stackers. These ingenious mechanical tikes would manage stock control together with impeccable merchandising skills, all without a whinge or the faintest hint of a tea break. As we look forward to the prospect of unemployment levels of possibly 20% and above, how will we judge a retailer willing to invest millions in machines designed to steal jobs from the poor?
Perhaps (he says hopefully) our techno-hysteria will dissipate now we have a genuine unemployment crisis to worry about. It seems this microbial wake up call has endowed us with a refreshing clarity. Instead of being swept along by life’s relentless momentum, the lockdown has given us a planet-wide pause for thought: time to reevaluate our lives and what we want from them. Maybe we realise the future is ours to steer, instead of something that simply happens to us in the rush of routine.
So, good news, on the hill ahead the robots are retreating. Slightly clumsily, on wheels and tank track thingies, but they are definitely retreating. But, this is no time for celebration. Life post Covid 19 shows all the signs of a much more sinister invasion.
The advent of ‘contact tracing’ technology from Apple, Google and even our own NHSX ushers in an era of super-surveillance. Governments across the planet are developing systems that analyse data from smartphone apps to identify and locate patterns of infection in order to manage where and when we can move about. Helpful, of course, but this technology is a gateway drug to much deeper, Orwellian levels of social control, and we must tread carefully with our eyes wide open.
The Indian government’s compulsory Aarogya Setu app, for example, has emulated the shamelessly authoritarian Chinese model within just a few weeks. The AS app comes pre-installed on new smartphones and means, in effect, you need official approval to access your workplace, public transport and even the local park.
Contact tracing tech maybe a wolf in sheep’s clothing but dictatorial levels of authoritarianism couldn’t happen here, surely? I’m not convinced. Within minutes of the announcement of our lockdown regulations in the UK, the curtain twitchers and tut-tutters were on the phone to the police snitching on double dog walkers and unauthorised family picnickers. Both Youtube and Facebook have banned ‘scientifically unsubstantiated’ posts on Covid 19, which basically means anything not officially approved by the WHO. Oh yes, our soil is fertile for ever more state control.
The 75th anniversary of VE Day is a beautifully timed reminder that freedom should never be taken for granted. “Download our app to stay safe, access advice and services, use public transport safely and clock in at work so we can help keep you virus free! “
Failure to do so, however, will see you alienated, excluded, economically impotent and a social pariah. You choose.
Thanks for reading. Now please follow me @retailfuturist for rants and observations