Driverless Cars, Pilotless Planes...Soulless Life

R Jayaraman

Author: R Jayaraman

Date: Sat, 2016-09-03 20:40

What’s going on with the world? The media hype is now on to driverless cars ever since Elon Musk announced his intention to remove the driver from the front seat. Appears that Elon was having difficulties in driving or learning to drive, so he decided to remove the obstacle.

I remember the way I learnt to drive. My father owned an office car much before many others did and I was an avid observer of how a car is driven. We had a driver who was an expert and he could negotiate his way out of many near accidents. These were good lessons, never to be forgotten. So the way I learnt to drive was to ask one of my sardar friends (his father owned a taxi and he and I worked in the same department in Mukand Iron) to sit beside me in the front seat, and I inserted the key and got the carburettor to kick on. And the rest, as they observe, is history. Elon obviously has a different history.

I am not sure why people are so against their fellow beings the way Elon is after drivers. Google is making a mistake by following the road less travelled, by following Elon. Soon we will have lensless eye glasses, eyeless vision and so on. I am not sure where these people are coming from. Ever since James Watt drove the steam engine, industry has been trying to get people out of work. Mindless automation, robotification in the name of removing drudgery, Internet of Things to get rid of everything else, I suppose.

To begin with, in order to raise the living standards, industries created jobs. As soon as a few people started earning a decent wage and drove themselves out of poverty, the self-same industrialists got into top gear to invent and innovate ways and means to get rid of these earning members of the society, those for whom industry was created in the first place, by automation. Although most companies justify automation in the name of faster growth and defending against “competition”, the truth us that a capitalist does not want to share his wealth. He would rather spend a few millions on inventing more robots to displace a whole lot of people who earn a few thousand dollars. In such a deadly quest, they are assisted by their bean counters who have invented things like IRR, ROI, payback, ROCE etc to make sure that the job losses continue and companies relentlessly stay on the path of making people jobless, the more, the better.

In such a scenario, a jobless job, a classroomless education, a friendshipless society are all within the realms of possibility. No doubt Elon Musk, and more recently Ford, the company which invented the automobile and whose founder Henry Ford made the first assembly line produced car so that more people can own and drive cars, are hell bent on removing the driver. Doesn’t matter that the first prototypes met with accidents and were rendered motionless. We will soon see rudderless planes, chipless computers (INTEL nowhere), topless attire (witness the recent demonstration in New York by women who went topless to make a point that they should have the freedom to do so to get equal with men who are allowed to go topless ) and spokeless wheels.
Automatic signals, tubeless tyres, hydraulic handsfree operated windows, auto gear systems – have all been seen in cars over the years. People didn’t notice much these developments which they thought were advancements in technology being put to good use. Whoever imagined that one day we will have the driverless car?


Seriously what would happen if driverless cars did become a reality? Men will be out of another work which they thought was a good occupation. It helps them in gulping down bad coffee during the long morning drive to the office, takes away a genuine excuse that they were “held up in traffic”, takes away the ability to feel in command of something after the drubbing received at home from various quarters, reduces the feeling that they can control something which cannot hit back or talk back or, as in this case, drive back, removes an occupation like taxi driving  which then reduces the right of taxi drivers to go on strike whenever they feel bored or threatened .

One would hate to imagine what would happen to autorickshaw drivers in Mumbai? They would lose the chance of saying NO to many prospective customers, which will make them feel unwanted and lost in a big, bad, directionless, driverless world.

In short, by trying to remove the driver, the world is going towards an era where “control” would pass away from humans to machines FINALLY. No going back or getting back.

On an optimistic note, technology can offer us options. Intelligent societies should exert choice, so that these options are leveraged for the benefit of society as a whole. Sometimes, this may include restricting the uses of an available technology for the greater good.


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<p>Quite an interesting read, Sir. Mindless automation. What a powerful and a dangerous term. Just doing something because you can and not because its requred. Where there are so many situations and places and people on this Earth whose lives can be altered for the better using technology, such are the ways of the rich (read capitalists)&nbsp;who want to chase a joyride to the Moon and Mars. Maybe heaps of money makes people&nbsp;lose their minds or it is that the fools not the meek who shall inherit the Earth?&nbsp;</p> <p>And then there are some few wise ones who donate their wealth for the right cause. Humanity is not completely dead, i guess. Thats the only solace we can live with. At least for the time being! :)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>

<p>Suggest that you do that soon enough , befoere thst is also automated . Robots created to live for human beings and HB's themselves kept in cold storage or wahtever , so thjat they can await their rebirth . In such a "karma - less " world , laws of dharma may have to be rewritten !</p>

I have always believed that the current form of economy and civilization is just a mere watering hole in the vast desert we are trying to cross to a destination which we have no idea about. We could argue about staying in the watering hole comfortable with our current way of life. But, what if the nomads had thought about it before they took up farming or what if James Watt had been a tad too comfortable with the way the world was and felt bad about removing the jobs of horse carriage drivers and horse breeders or even more worse what if he decided to showcase it to the world 20 years later. The solution is to Re-Skill our people and not put a cap on Development. Why put waste to a unique skill which has been mastered into perfection against all odds in this huge chaotic universe. Why do you want to stop imagination and the thought of moving forward? Isn't that what made us humans in the first place? The Focus should be on the free flow of information enabling humans adapt and move forward as a single entity and not on regulations to protect the current way of life.

A thought awakening article. Writer has rendered his antiseptic future dystopia in a subtle way and has made a good use of pun to highlight the unanticipated consequences of technology. It is very saddening to know the level of technological advancement and automation happening around the world will soon lead us in an emotionless, detached and mechanical world. I have read many articles centering around the same topic and i also recall a TV anthology series "Black Mirror" made on this subject.

A thought awakening article. Writer has rendered his antiseptic future dystopia in a subtle way and has made a good use of pun to highlight the unanticipated consequences of technology. It is very saddening to know the level of technological advancement and automation happening around the world will soon lead us in an emotionless, detached and mechanical world. I have read many articles centering around the same topic and i also recall a TV anthology series "Black Mirror" made on this subject.

A thought awakening article. Writer has rendered his antiseptic future dystopia in a subtle way and has made a good use of pun to highlight the unanticipated consequences of technology. It is very saddening to know the level of technological advancement and automation happening around the world will soon lead us in an emotionless, detached and mechanical world and is also making us dumber. I have read many articles centering around the same topic and i also recall a TV anthology series "Black Mirror" made on this subject. Incorporating human skills into a machine – called “blackboxing” . Putting the expertise in the machine lowers the barriers to entry for doing something because the person does not need to know as much. Taking a simple example- with automated blood monitor instruments it has made it redundant for people to learn the method of taking blood pressure. Automation is in a way killing our brain and making us slave to machinery. There should be a balance between automation and manual process. It should be done to the degree that it does not start affecting people's life negatively.

Evidently, since past, technology and automation have decimated entire industries – and generated new ones. The number of jobs eliminated has far outnumbered the new job opportunities created by technology and automation. The fear that automation would lead to the demise of mass employment had always been there and it still apparently exists. Today, technology may be ready for automation completely, but are we ready? Well said in the article that “technology can offer us options”. It is up to us to comprehend what makes sense, what value it adds or what value it eliminates. Undoubtedly, if it augments value in terms of ROI and margins, we tag it as innovation but, unknowingly though unfortunately, we disregard the value it eradicates, specifically by coercing mass unemployment. While projecting the remunerations of technology and automation to any industry, one must fathom foremost, whether the boom one is designing for industry poses any potential menace to the life we are actually trying to make easier or to the society we live in! The supplement of technology should be towards societal growth as a whole and not limited to the ones who only desire to improve their margins- can be called as eliminators (in need of eliminating drivers, pilots, workers, i.e. eliminating jobs as a whole). Otherwise, the bridge between these margin seeking investors and the unemployed masses will broaden even more as the masses will no longer be left with any capital to spend. In order to sustain technology in harmony with all facets of societal human race, limiting the application of an available technology for the greater good is essential. Technology is a bane is not what I mean here; rather the application of automation should be thoughtful. The emphasis should be towards enhancing employment, Re-Skilling people instead of shutting down the development and growth of masses in need. As technology promoters it should be incumbent upon us to not allow technology to exceed our humanity. Let’s not desire the things which will ultimately destroy us in the end driving us into a mechanical world.

Dear Sir, I completely agree with your take in the article. While the whole world is going gaga over driverless cars and all such technological advancement, in reality we are indeed moving to a soulless life. The satire in your article depicts the sad part of the technological advancement. Sadly, it is becoming a reality of life. I agree that we are moving towards an automated society where we will reach a point where we won’t have any control over it. Automation & technology in a way is killing our brain and making us brainless humans. It saddens me to the core that our future generations will be part of this soulless life where they will not experience the thrill of driving the car, their friendship will be limited to social network, and they will miss the little pleasures of doing things without the use of technology. There is another harsh dimension to problem of technological advancement & automation. Being a citizen of a densely populated country, the thought of automation scares me. With over several million of our population being unemployed we don’t need automation which will push us over the edge. Driving is a way of life for several auto and cab drivers in the country. They earn their daily bread and butter from it. Won’t the concept of driverless car put them out of employment? Automation must be a boon for scarcely populated countries where they have lack of resources but in India it will certainly prove a curse.

We have come a long way from being nomads to successfully landing a rocket on Earth (done by a SPACEX owned by Elon Musk). This has been made possible by the very nature of human beings to not get satisfied and strive for a better future. And we have always observed that any change has a cost and it boils down to a trade off between what you get and what you leave. I think it would be unfair to question the very nature that has brought us here and base our judgement on actions of a few. However, we, as a species are at a juncture where we have to be very careful about where we are headed. The continuous marathon of automation that we are witnessing today has to be observed very closely because it could have serious implications. Remember the joy of taking a long drive on a lonely highway or through the winding roads of a hill station after a rainy day- yes this could become a history. And this is what we should fear for, the very things we enjoy getting replaced by a mechanical life. What we need today are responsible innovations and solutions not just because we can do them but because we need them. This means refraining ourselves from what will make us redundant as the author rightly mentioned.

Thank you, R Jayaraman sir for this thought provoking article. The article talks about how human beings will lose ‘control’ over the situation if everything around becomes automated which makes us think: Is technological change our ally or our foe? AI can be a huge blessing to the society as it has the potential to eradicate poverty and disease, but what worries most of the researchers is that one-day human beings will lose control of the AI systems and will end up creating a Frankenstein, which has been glamorously depicted in a lot of Hollywood movies. However, my views are a bit different. In the future where most of the work done by us now will become machine dependent, doesn’t necessarily mean that human beings will become soulless. On the contrary I believe that maybe automation will help human beings to control their pace. In today’s world where everyone is busy with their 9-10 hours jobs, people don’t have time for themselves and their family, people are working like robots, but in the future when things will become automated, robots will take up most of the burden; so, people will find time for themselves and will start living like human beings again and not robots. Moreover, automation doesn’t mean that humans will lose all their jobs. Humans will be always required in the service sector because of things like empathy, judgment, creativity and critical thinking. The robots maybe designed to be intelligent but programming a robot to make it feel the human emotions is still too far-fetched. Technology has not yet reached to that point where everything will be automated. But it is an inevitable future. In the AI dependent future, the main problem will be the distribution of wealth, as perfectly articulated by Stephen Hawking “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.” Hence, the cause of the problems will not be the robots but the human beings themselves. If we talk about the automobile sector, the idea of driverless cars may sound intimidating, just as a horseless carriage did in 1880. But the invention of cars made our lives so much easier. Who knows maybe driverless cars will be a boon for us. But one thing that is for sure is that, if everyone starts using driverless cars, it’ll mean a massive displacement of jobs in the transportation sector. During the Industrial Revolution, manual laborers feared that steam machines were going to take away their jobs. And it happened, for a while, but in the long run, things got so much better for society in general. Similarly, In the long run, driverless cars may turn out to be a boon for the society as driverless cars will not be prone to human weaknesses and errors. Hence, there will be higher efficiency and less accidents, which maybe a blessing for the world where 1.3 billion people die every year because of road accidents. Every revolution comes with a cost. The rise of new technology will strip some people of their livelihoods. But in the long run, it will raise the nation’s standard of living. Our future will be a Dystopian one or a Utopian one, only time will tell.

Sir, it is interesting to read your opinion about the darker side that the rapidly evolving technologies put up. It is true that the industrialists are aiming to increase the profits by removing manual labour and bringing in automation at every level of repeated work. But, when you criticized about some of the technologies like the upcoming driverless cars and pilotless planes, it struck my mind about the much larger life problem it is bound to solve. In my opinion, some of these technologies are not designed to bring down jobs, but to create a solution to improve the quality of life. Job losses may be a consequence of those technology adoption. Statistics says that, about 1.24 million people die out of road accidents and the number is expected to double by 2030. However, with 90% of autonomous cars coming on to the road, this number can be brought down three-fold. So, I am of an opinion that, rather than blaming Elon Musks and the Googles for showing their animosity towards the drivers, it can be perceived as these innovators seeking to bring up a solution to address a real-life problem. Moreover, driverless cars are an upcoming technology and will be adopted only at a slower rate and would give sufficient buffer time for the incumbents to find an alternate source of income. In addition, if we aren’t supportive of the upcoming disruptive technologies speculative of the job losses it would create, there wouldn’t be any incentive for the innovators for working on the problems that we don’t see currently. We can also perceive that a pilotless plane will open new opportunities in the form of the drone controllers and technicians. So, isn’t some of these innovations just transforming work of one form to another? It is up to the people who should be ready to adapt to varying work atmospheres and learn continuously to be safe from threat of job losses that the new technologies extend. On a positive note, we can still hope that several of the skills like empathy, creativity, humour and problem-solving skills are difficult to codify and automate. In those areas, we can be optimistic that those job opportunities will not degrade soon. It is however up to we humans to weigh the pros and cons of such disruptive innovations that would impact the socio-economic balance of the society and then adopt what is acceptable and beneficial to the society.

Thanks sir for a wonderful article. I appreciate how you critically analysed a major budding megatrend- artificial intelligence. The article also displays your commendable sense of humour. I agree with your point of view that artificial intelligence, automation, and the internet of things will snatch away employment from many but this effect would be short term. Looking how the mankind has evolved over last 200 years, humans have tried to simplify things for his benefits but it has ultimately led to the generation of more and more jobs. The invention of a machine is one such proof of how mechanisation over the time has increased and it has been complemented by the creation of more jobs in other sectors and industries. One would have argued about the loss of job of various farmers after the invention of tractors and its usage on agriculture fields but eventually, it opened new better avenues for those farmers to work in and raised their living standards. We can thus safely infer that with discoveries of new technologies, new avenues for employment should open. I think that looking at the downside of automation we should not forget the benefits that would follow. Don’t we remember how the workers during the industrial revolution era were treated, people at that time couldn’t have imagined of the quality of lifestyle with which we live. This was made possible by the improvements in technology and automation. There may also be time, a few years from now when our grandchildren will think same about us and pity our lifestyle. As the number of driverless cars increases, human intervention on road traffic will decrease leading to a plunge in accidents and loss of lives. Life will become even simpler with the internet of things and humans will reach a yet another height of prosperity. With the majority of the work being done by machines, working hours would drastically reduce. Humans will get to spend more quality time on herself/himself and with her/his family. We will get some time to come out of our present soul-less lives to search our soul and finally live the gift called ‘Life’ It is true that control of many things including our lives will get transferred over to machines. Coincidently, this era has been correctly termed as ‘Kalyug’ in Hindu Mythology which means the era of machines. However, we should not forget that creators are the ultimate masters, Machines will always remain slaves and humankind their masters. Considering all the positives, it is imperative to note the caveats you mentioned. We could see from the example of one of the biggest technology breakthrough of the century- smartphones, though it was meant to bring people closer, it has distanced them somehow. Technological advancement is inevitable, it would be interesting to see how mankind will overcome such obstacles.

Sir, your article is an interesting read. The less discussed aspect of automation – it’s impact on society – has been wonderfully portrayed in the same. While the world is progressing towards a more automated setup, the societal damage in the form of job losses is on the rise. The human touch is being lost and standardized processes are replacing present jobs. However, if we look at it from the point of view of the technology industry, there is a ray of hope. Technology holds the future of the world and presently it is one of the most worked upon areas across countries. Many new jobs are opening up in the technology domain. People are required to create automation processes. Based on the high demand of technology in the future, the need for technology developers will increase and this can provide a new area for job creation. It however has its challenges. You have mentioned drivers and other people from the lower strata of the society losing out on jobs as a result of automation. These jobs do not require a high education level and serve as easy bread earners. However if the future jobs lie in the technology domain, then there is a requirement for building up a nation where majority of the population are conversant with technology. There is a completely new set of skills that has to be spread across a larger number of people who can potentially lose their job to automation. This can only be achieved over the long run by imparting technical education among the people. The people in the lower strata of the society needs to be empowered with technical education so that they can be competent to work in the technology industry in future. This requires government intervention to reduce the immediate unemployability. As the technical education level increases among the people in the lower strata of the society with time, more people can shift from the job of a driver (in this context) to the job of a technology developer. The government can regulate the rate of automation in industries keeping in mind the social requirement of employability. While educating people about technology and its developments is one way to deal with the problem, it is not the only way. Another way to retain the jobs is by coming up with industries which require a high level of customization. Automation works in industries where the products and the processes are standard. However, customized products require a personal touch for each individual product and automation will not be able to add value to such an industry. An example for the same is the “Home Décor” industry which is very subjective and depends completely on people for their products. These two ways combined can provide us with a future where technology will become a bread earner and not a reason for unemployment.

Although tracing the process of automation is not a task I could accomplish, but in modern context I have my share of thoughts based on a few readings couple of years ago. It all started with invention of the printing press. People were confident that only printed media would popularize and opinions of the common man would become irrelevant. Written letters started losing their popularity only to be cherished as a lost art in the 21st Century. Factory workers started losing their jobs like frenzy. Depression added to the people’s woes. Emails and Fax ensured postman’s around the world would lose their job. Minimum chance of letters being mixed up. Perfect delivery almost every time. Such discipline was hardly human and people were reluctant to accept it. Mobile Phones have given headaches to manufacturers of not only camera companies but also those of calculators, wrist watches, calendars and even printed Maps. The post was a joyful read providing an insight into a world of perfection. The tone of the article spices up the dark message it carries. Automation is making us lazier and smarter at the same time. My father remembers the streets of Delhi like lines at back of his hand. I struggle to remember the passwords of my 5 Email Accounts. The guide to use of technology just might need some chapters re-written. Intend is no longer to maximize its usage. We are losing focus on where to draw the line. Skills are being easily learned but qualities of tasks being carried out is getting questionable. A post on facebook is sufficient to make someone a writer of the masses. Instagram is the new norm to decide how good is the taste of fashion of any individual. Visionaries like Musk are inventing things which might be used for entirely different purposes. Driverless cars if manhandled could lead to accidents with no culprits involved. Dark times might welcome us ahead.

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