I wrote about Fatdoor’s recent announcement they are relaunching social networks for neighborhoods, with shared robots as a part of the offering. Since then, I’ve engaged in a 45 minute talk with a high school friend, some Skype debate with Will Moyer, and a 20 minute conversation over coffee yesterday with a fellow entrepreneur in the real estate vertical.

The topic: what are the long term implications of mass automation?

There are two big ones, in my opinion. De-humanization of day to day life, and economic.

selfdrivingcarWe all know that Uber is going to put self driving cars on their transportation grid. I’m not sure Lyft will take that plunge (their tag line is “Your friend with a car” – and friend implies real person), and I hope they don’t. But Uber certainly will. There is no stopping that, certainly that’s part of the reason Google Ventures has invested so much money in the company. There goes any human interaction you may have for transportation. Bye bye cab drivers, truck drivers, and bus drivers.

Fatdoor, or some other company, will figure out how to share robots at the hyper local neighborhood level. Cities like Palo Alto will be among the first cities where robots become normal within a small geographic area. Bye bye delivery drivers. Bye bye talking to your neighbors when sharing tools (and everything else).

Prediction: In the future, there will be cities that ban all automation and brand themselves as “This is the place to live if you actually want human interaction”. And a lot of people will relocate to those cities.

As one off cases, automation in niche segments of the population – who cares, right? But at critical mass, in every segment of the entire population? That’s a scary thought. Each small jump forward in automation gets us closer and closer to wiping out all daily human interaction. We’re seeing the effects of the lack of human interaction in society already with the slew of recent shootings. People are de-humanizated as a result of spending hours, days, weeks, months, years playing video games and shooting people on a daily basis. Then they think that’s okay in real life too. News flash. It’s not.

I completely get the argument for automation based around efficient use of time. 70-80% of our population (in 1870) used to work in agriculture, and now that figure sits at about 2% (Wikipedia). We’ve undergone the industrial revolution, and now humans are free to make better use of our time, moving on to bigger and better things than feeding ourselves.

Will mass automation be more efficient?

Yes.

Cheaper?

Yes.

But does that mean it’s a good thing? I’m not convinced. If you can go all day without dealing with real live people – what is going to keep you in touch with reality? Where are you going to get compassion from? How fulfilling will life be if it’s spent interacting with robots, and computer screens? What jobs are going to be left? Government, and tech, nothing else will be left standing.

Sorry I’m not more optimistic. Humanity…please prove otherwise.