Automation and digitalisation

Automation and digitalisation have become synonymous with cheaper and more efficient.

Cheapness and efficiency — what company or government wouldn’t want that, in an age characterised by widespread budget cuts and a search for better margins, a goal that’s considered achieved when there’s an increase by one cent per unit?

If we continue automating and digitalising with no foresight, then in the long run we could technologise away every conceivable profession, save the one of the programming engineer. But is that what we would want the world to be like?

A world where people are no more than bits and bytes, overseen by a supercomputer. A world where the government no longer trusts its people, and requires them to prove their status as an upstanding citizen — by semi-voluntarily or even involuntarily providing digital evidence. The government will be largely computerised as well.

Doctors, judges and police officers can be replaced by robotic arms, algorithms and drone squads. No more receptionists; instead we’ll have a computer with a Google-like start page to welcome us. Speaking of Google: once their driverless cars hit the asphalt, parking issues and traffic jams will be a thing of the past as well.

No more crashes and no more traffic tickets, but also no more car insurance and no more car repair industry.

This is the way the world is changing rapidly, and all industries — which aren’t prepared for this — are going to be affected. What is the plan underlying these changes?

Automation and digitalisation. Because it’s cheaper and more efficient. But will it bring about a world we would want to be in?

This column was written for the Dutch Radio 1, TROS in Bedrijf (a business radio programme).

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