Preparing For The Coming “Age Of The Robots”

Its quite amazing to recollect but eighteen years ago I sat in a darkened movie theatre, warm popcorn in my lap, and fidgeted like a giddy teenager watching Canadian acting legend Keanu Reeves (truth!) kick the proverbial ass of Agent Smith in a little movie called “The Matrix”. That little movie, and the two sequels that followed, became part of my pop culture references and made the Wachowski brothers and Keanu very very “bankable”

At the time I remember thinking what a creative but dystopian view of the “battle” between man and machine and what dark Science Fiction recesses did that spring from.

These days I don’t believe we’re in the dystopian future manifest in the movie.

But I also no longer consider The Matrix a fanciful fiction either.

Here are perhaps a few bitter (red or blue?) pills to swallow from my recent LinkedIn and Facebook newsfeed.

A human-free “Burger ATM” that McDonalds is testing in Boston.

A robot barista that, according to WIRED, makes a pretty decent latte. Howard Schultz might disagree but the WIRED editorial staff were certainly quite impressed.

The delightfully acerbic Scott Galloway reminded me that Amazon know employs (or deploys) enough robots to fill Madison Square Gardens twice. In some locations, they out-number humans.

Canadian marketing legend (and friend) Mitch Joel eloquently opined about the impact of “High Frequency Marketing” and the impact of automation on the creativity business.

BusinessInsider told a miserable story about the “plight” of UBER drivers forced to sleep in parking lots because they were unable to make ends meet with the organizations consistent desire to “costs out of the system.” Reading that article made me want to #deleteUber even before their NYC airport debacle.

And perhaps in a cruel example of the recency effect, The Wall Street Journal penned this extensive “behind the scenes” piece encouragingly titled “The End of Employees” this week.

Now, before you think I’m hot-jacking some end of the world, Chicken Little, post-apocalypse channel on Netflix, rest assured my social media echo chamber was filled with as many cat videos, Darwin Award contenders and President Donald Trump memes as it ever was. Though I will freely admit President Donald Trump was perhaps “trending” more — if that’s even possible.

These stories are no longer outliers and while we may still not yet have flying cars, we aren’t very far from a driverless car world.

This isn’t news either.

Ironically Aldous Huxley and the amazing Nicholas Carr have written about this “future” for ages.

To me, the fact that this future is so fungible and within reach is the part I’m reeling from. And, despite what my daughters might say, I consider myself quite well-informed.

So, the question looming large in my mind is how do we respond or react to this?

Being an ostrich or, alternatively, Chicken Little isn’t going to cut it.

Hoping Government will sort it is equally amusing, particularly when you consider how poorly Governments (and Business, NGO’s and the Media) scored in Edelman’s most recent Global Trust Barometer.

Here are a few things that I think WE ALL need to reconsider — because, heaven knows, I don’t have the answers.

HOW WE EDUCATE — I absolutely adore Canada (remember Keanu) but I do worry that our Education isn’t progressively and proactively teaching our kids genuine skills for this new world. I absolutely understand that a unionized and free education system has some systemic challenges to change but Education has to be one of the most pressing areas to review and address. I readily admit the struggle is “So what should we teach them then Hilton?”

WHAT WE REWARD — There is no denying the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley and similar places across the globe has made my 1st World life very cushy. I’m jacking free wifi, drinking a 1% latte bought with my mobile phone, in a comfortable Toronto Starbucks so I can’t moan too much. BUT, our obsession with 90-day analyst calls, social media unicorn IPO’s and “disruptions” like Airbnb and UBER, reinforces a short-term capitalistic, winner-takes-all imperative that is dangerous. If we reward and exalt organizations that see human beings as a disposable asset that merely inflates their OPEX, rather than someone’s Mom, Dad, Son, Wife, Friend, then we can’t be surprised when they “right-size”, “down-size”, “near-source” and “out-source” and “offshore”

HOW WE TAX — Yes, get the pitchforks and torches out because this (wooly-headed Liberal) is going there. Look up from reading this post, look around the room you’re currently in, consider what happens when 50%, 75% or 100% of the people in that room don’t pay tax because they have no taxable income. Look further afield, consider how your government will pay for those pesky “externalities” like roads, bridges, healthcare, the military and yes, even those big big big walls. Yes, that’s taxes not pixies and tooth-fairies that pay for that. While we’re on the subject, does anyone believe that tax dodging and tax avoidance by large corporations and 1-percenters can continue to be passively persecuted?

HOW WE PAY — In Europe the conversation about a Universal Living Wage has taken on some increased shape. But it certainly is not without its detractors and dodgers. The notion of allowing every person to earn enough to “live” isn’t an insane idea. I’m no Economics wizard but allowing people to retain a roof over the heads and, importantly, retain their dignity and pride has to be an objective worth determining. If you don’t believe that much of the anger and frustration we’re seeing spilling on to our TV screens each night isn’t directly related to folks whose dignity and pride has been eroded, then I don’t think you understand humans very much.

HOW WE TALK (TO EACH OTHER) — You’re likely reading this courtesy of Mr Zuckberg or Mr Weiner (Thanks guys) but if you’re swimming in those waters it’s likely a heady churn of indignation, outrage and venting. This delightful article was a stark reminder that none of that indignation helps your mental state. It certainly hasn’t helped mine in recent weeks. I freely admit that answers to the problems facing us — and I’m talking about more than Agent Smith and his armies — are not easy to solve but if you believe they’ll be addressed by shouting, vilifying, ostracizing and marginalizing then you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

I didn’t start this post intending to write a Jerry MacQuire “manifesto” but these are uncertain times. Times that call for composure, compassion and constructive discourse. From all of us.

Which path are you going to take?


In an alternate universe I am a successful futurist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. And occasional swimsuit model. In THIS life, I get much of my futurist braincandy from way way smarter people like Rohit Talwar, Dean Bubley, Nikolas Badminton, Dan Pontefract, Tom Asacker amongst others. If the future intrigues you, then I strongly encourage you to seek them out and pay attention to the stuff they write about. I guarantee you it’ll kick you in the cranium.

Networker. Marketing Provocateur. Loves travelling - love my 2 daughters more. Perpetually curious.