I believe that unmanned ground systems will have the biggest impact on society over the next two decades. Why? Because ground systems are the ones that are most likely to perform functions that people would otherwise do, and the biggest impact will occur when peoples’ jobs are changed or replaced by machines. An obvious and often-discussed area likely to experience some of the greatest impact is that of the transportation worker, such as taxi and limousine drivers, bus drivers, railroad engineers, and others (Tracy, 2015).
Aside from the direct economic impact of jobs being changed or eliminated, another reason that ground systems will have the largest impact on society is that they’ll probably be the ones that most people own and interact with directly on a regular basis. For example, it doesn’t appear likely that there will ever be a time when most people own an unmanned aircraft system, but it does appear likely that there will come a time when most people own a car that’s capable of driving itself (Chuang, 2017). That level of ubiquity and familiarity is likely to drive innovation and reveal possible uses in the area of unmanned ground systems that are difficult or impossible to predict today, just as has happened with computers that are now used in ways that few could anticipate decades ago when most people didn’t own one.
Unmanned ground systems also have the potential to impact society by being used as a vehicle for some people to promote their political beliefs. Just as journalists have leveraged fear of military drones in their anti-war reporting, many are attempting to use peoples’ fear of job loss to “robots” as justification to promote the concept of a socialist “universal basic income” (UBI) that the government would pay to all citizens (Darrow, 2017).
If we apply “unmanned system” in its broadest sense of including not just vehicles but all machines and especially those that are capable of replacing people (often referred to as “robots”) the potential impact becomes even greater and includes things like fast food workers and others in the restaurant industry (McGee, 2017), bricklayers (Sklar, 2015), cashiers and toll both operators (McFarland, 2017), telemarketers (Mahdawi & Chalabi, 2017), security guards (Metz, 2014), bartenders (Wright, 2017), and bank tellers (Grothaus, 2017).
In reality, the changes to jobs and job opportunities are likely to be gradual and less serious than most of the dire predictions. For example, it has been suggested that jobs in the law profession will be significantly impacted by “robots”, but the reality is that the potential for lawyers, paralegals, and others to be replaced is very limited. In fact, research has shown that automation typically increases the number of jobs in a given industry and that it tends to transform jobs rather than eliminate them due to the fact that while specific tasks can be performed by machines, it’s rare that an entire job can be (Markoff, 2016). So while it’s true that ground systems are likely to have a large impact on society, it appears unlikely that they’ll result in the kind of mass unemployment often alluded to by sensationalist reporting.
As with other types of machine, I believe the overall impact of unmanned ground systems will be very positive. Transportation, for example, will become faster, cheaper, and safer for people as machines increasingly take responsibility for tasks they’re able to do better. Changes will occur, but they’ll happen gradually and be less a matter of eliminating jobs than changing them, and people who are willing to adapt will find work doing tasks that machines can’t yet do. In fact, it’s that adaptability that ensures that people will never fully be replaced by machines.
Chuang, T. (2017, March 26). When Can You Buy — Or Try — A Driverless Car? The Denver Post. Retrieved from http://www.denverpost.com/2017/03/26/driverless-car-options/
Darrow, B. (2017, May 24). Automation, Robots, and Job Losses Could Make Universal Income a Reality. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/05/24/automation-job-loss-universal-income/
Grothaus, M. (2017, January 19). Bet You Didn’t See This Coming: 10 Jobs That Will Be Replaced By Robots. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3067279/you-didnt-see-this-coming-10-jobs-that-will-be-replaced-by-robots
Mahdawi, A., & Chalabi, M. (2017, June 26). What Jobs Will Still Be Around in 20 Years? Read This to Prepare Your Future. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/26/jobs-future-automation-robots-skills-creative-health
Markoff, J. (2016, January 4). The End of Lawyers? Not So Fast. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/04/the-end-of-work-not-so-fast/?_r=0
McFarland, M. (2017, September 15). Robots: Is Your Job at Risk? CNN. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2017/09/15/technology/jobs-robots/index.html
McGee, C. (2017, March 28). In a Decade, Many Fast-Food Restaurants Will Be Automated, Says Yum Brands CEO. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/28/in-a-decade-many-fast-food-restaurants-will-be-automated-says-yum-brands-ceo.html
Metz, R. (2014, November 13). Rise of the Robot Security Guards. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/532431/rise-of-the-robot-security-guards/
Sklar, J. (2015, September 2). Robots Lay Three Times as Many Bricks as Construction Workers. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/540916/robots-lay-three-times-as-many-bricks-as-construction-workers/
Tracy, S. (2015, June 11). Autonomous Vehicles Will Replace Taxi Drivers, But That’s Just the Beginning. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-tracy/autonomous-vehicles-will-_b_7556660.html
Wright, B. (2016, March 28). Robots Are Coming For Your Job. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-wright-robots-jobs-data-mining-20160328-story.html