Last night, on the evening news, I saw a large driverless lorry filmed in America speeding along a major highway transporting beer from one city to another. It made me think – hard.
The predictions have been that it will be some years before self-drive vehicles will be part of our way of life, but it is clear that the push to exploit robotic technology has overtaken the caution and ethical consideration that normally precede the implementation of new scientific development. Drones, for example, are relatively cheap and are widely available to whoever wants them: safety regulation, however, has not anticipated their widespread use and potential danger, and still remains inadequate in many countries including the UK.
As Amazon plans to use drones for deliveries and as computers in vehicles can take over freight transportation, the question I ask myself is, what will happen to the people who do those jobs now? Thousands, millions of workers who drive trains, or pack clothes in factories, even surgeons and bankers, may find themselves with no job because they have been replaced by a quicker, cheaper, automaton. How will they live, what will they do? Who will support them? Meanwhile, the world population is growing rapidly, and out of control.
The other ethical problem confronting us is that we as humans are overwhelming the planet to such a degree that, as the latest Living Planet Report shows, many, many wildlife species are being driven to extinction. Our lives depend on the maintenance of a harmonious balance of nature, and if we continue to destroy Earth then we destroy the human race. It is a truth ignored by the majority of us, and one that needs to be addressed now.
On two fronts, then, we are voluntarily threatening our human future. Professor Stephen Hawking has warned that robots may become so much cleverer than man, man will be wiped out, and the Planet is warning us too. The warnings must be heeded – and I believe they will.
My sense is that the human race will survive, but that we will be taught a hard lesson about careless hubris, responsibility, and selfishness, and not so far from now. The gods watch our foolishness, and they will intervene at the point of crisis out of love for Earth, and for us. The nature of the future of humanity is uncertain, but Gaia’s well-being is assured. Sadly, the gods should not need to intervene to make this so.
Image by Nicolas Barcet