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What will our automated world look like in 2038?

We already know what the power of automation can help us achieve, from increasing production levels while reducing overheads in manufacturing and distribution, to food delivery bot services like the one that Amazon Fresh is trialling. These uses of automation will be commonplace soon, but what about automation in 20 years? What will automation look like, how will it be deployed and who will it affect?

Let us fast forward a bit – to 2038, to be precise. The earth’s population will have risen to nine billion people; what will we be doing? 18.5 million electric cars will have been sold; will they have drivers? Annual internet traffic will have grown to 1,400 billion gigabytes (up from ‘only’ 12 billion gigabytes in 2016); will this be data sent from people to people, or to and from machines?

It is safe to say that in 20 years, technology will have advanced dramatically. New user interface (UI) technologies will have automated various daily tasks and experiences. Take our commute, for example. Will we be able to book driverless drones to take us to and from work? Passenger drones sound very sci-fi but that is exactly what people said about the Internet and plane travel, back in the day. Since pilots may only currently need to steer their plane for between three to seven minutes of each flight, automated travel is certainly a lot closer than you may believe… On a larger scale, think of the military, engineering and emergency possibilities of such technology.

Brain-computer interface (BCI) devices are in testing phases at the moment, but by 2038, we will all know what BCI devices are. As we develop wearable and implantable BCI devices, we will be able to use our minds to access the Internet. This presents the ability for us to have cognitive abilities far beyond our – and machine – understandings. Human intelligence will then shift from the number of facts that we can retain to how we use these portals in our minds, and how we apply that knowledge we can find – just by thinking – in real life scenarios. Knowledge, as we know it, will be automatic.

As already mentioned, the workforce is going to encounter huge change when it comes to automated processes. A recent Oxford University study predicted that 47% of jobs will disappear in the next 25 years – so what will we all be doing? Automation exists to take on the mechanical, menial, repetitive and unchallenging tasks from our jobs, from production lines to data entry. But what about in 2038? Could automated technology replace what makes us unique – our capacity for human thought and emotion?

Let’s explore two scenarios that we believe might be able to achieve in 20 years from a surprising industry – the legal sector.

First of all, let’s look at catching criminals…

We currently have the capacity to record HD CCTV of passengers on public transport, and real-time facial recognition is only a few short years away from being commercially viable. Now consider how this can be used in the world of 2038. You could, in theory, be able to track someone’s movements across town, monitoring their activities and keep tabs on them all without the use of a single pair of human eyes. Couple this with the advancements made in drone technology in the short window of its mainstream existence, and you can theorise that, in 20 years, drones could act as the first level of policing if an officer isn’t able to get to a crime scene in time. A criminal could be spotted, followed and caught, all without a human’s judgement and skills being called upon.

And how about convicting them?

Now consider the current reliability of voice recognition software. It is only a few years away from being perfectly capable of accurately recording multiple voices and crowded environments with 100% accuracy, and can therefore be used in a number of scenarios. So what about taking transcripts of court proceedings or analysing testimony?

In fact, it is already starting. Microsoft’s Ross AI bot is the company’s first legal expert prototype. You can ask Ross a question and it will come back with the cited answer, legislation, transcripts, case law and secondary sources. By 2038, this technology will be more accurate and knowledgeable about legal issues than even the best legal minds, as us humans do have a capacity to forget things occasionally.

This technology is approximately 10 years away from being ready, but what about this technology in 20 years? Would a bot be able to accurately review court transcripts, analyse evidence, review the defence and prosecution and provide legal insight? Will bots replace judges, who have the capacity to let human emotion and error cloud their judgement?

It is an interesting hypothesis that highlights the dramatic advancements made in automation, as seen through a legal system scenario. Of course, each industry will be impacted differently by automation, but this goes to show that no industry could be entirely free from its effects.

Automation has the capacity to improve our lives and workplaces, taking the burden of some tasks off us and leaving us to use all our brain power. It is how we choose to use this technology that will be crucial. Automation is designed to help us with tasks and increase our capacity to do what machines can’t do. But where does this leave us? Only time will tell…

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Thursday 11th October 2018

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