The Human Touch

I saw a segment on the news this morning about how most cars and trucks will be able to drive themselves in the near future. I’m not a fan of this idea, because my cynical little mind immediately starts to wonder what’s going to happen when those vehicles malfunction, but I’m sure I’ll manage to adapt when the time comes.  Unfortunately, the news segment didn’t just focus on cars and trucks.  I don’t remember the exact facts and figures, but the essence of the story was that most jobs that are now done by humans are going to be performed by machines (mostly robots) in the near future.  And that scared the heck out of me.

I can see the advantage of having robots do jobs that are mindlessly repetitive and hard on the human body, and I understand that machinery and technology allows goods to be produced much more quickly and cheaply than would ever be possible by depending solely on humans.  I get that there is a positive side to all these coming advances, I really do.  But I still have a hard time seeing a world where most of the work is done by robots as a good thing.

The most obvious problem is going to be the loss of jobs for millions of people.  When cars and trucks can drive themselves, who needs truck drivers or taxi drivers?  We already saw what happened when machines took over much of the work on assembly lines, and factories had massive layoffs.  And according to the news story, the job losses aren’t going to be limited to blue-collar workers.  Apparently, computers will be able to predict the rise and fall of the stock market more efficiently than a broker, and diagnose a disease more accurately than a doctor.  They are already creating stores that allow us to “check out” automatically through a phone app, thus removing the need for actual cashiers.  The list went on and on, but you get the picture.

Some experts believe that enough new jobs will be created to replace the ones that are lost, and I hope that’s true. (Although the job mentioned most was designing robots, and how soon will it be before robots are designing new robots?)  Still, what bothers me most about this prediction isn’t the loss of jobs, it’s the loss of human contact that our increasing dependence on technology creates.

It seems to me that the more we rely on machines, the less we feel the need to actually interact with other people.  And that’s not a good thing, because dealing effectively with other people is an essential part of being a happy and whole person.  Interacting with others reminds us that we aren’t the center of the universe, that our needs aren’t the only ones that matter, and that our opinions aren’t the only ones that count.  Other people are the ones that reassure us when we are anxious, comfort us in our grief, share in our joy and in general provide the connections that make life worth living.

I honestly have no idea what the future will bring, other than the fact that we will see technological advances we can’t even dream of today.  But my hope is that this “brave new world” of ours will still value real people and real relationships, and allow us to lead lives that aren’t mostly isolated from each other.  Because I don’t want to live in a world without the “human touch.”