It’s no secret that our society relies heavily on technological advancements made in the past few decades to function effectively. It is simply impossible in this day and age to go a day without encountering a computer, television, smartphone, smart watch, or even drone (hopefully just one delivering your Amazon purchase and not weaponry). Even self-driving cars have been popping up everywhere – something I hadn’t even considered a legitimate possibility until under a year ago. The fact is that the world is continuously changing at an extremely rapid rate, but how can we keep up from a legislative perspective?
When our country’s founders were writing the constitution they couldn’t have possibly fathomed that one of their ancestors could potentially meet their significant other by “swiping right” on a small glowing rectangle, so how can our constitution as it stands address the ever-shifting world of technology? Specifically, what laws – if any – should be in place to regulate automation in the workplace? I know that I personally opt for the self-checkout line at Fry’s whenever possible, but with things like Amazon Go popping up, will human cashiers even be necessary soon?
An increasingly automated society is an idea that has been around for years, however, it’s a narrative that has been primarily categorized as dystopian fiction. This dystopian fiction is gradually becoming the modern reality. Even artificial intelligence is making its way into the real world. There are already businesses adopting software with artificial intelligence capabilities such as machine learning, natural language processing, image interpretation and the ability to conduct conversation. This idea is also coming to fruition in our own homes with devices like Amazon’s Echo. While these realities are a far cry from Kubrick’s HAL 9000 computer, or Vonnegut’s EPICAC XIV, it’s only a matter of time before they catch up.
With these inevitable advancements, we as a country must determine our priorities. Do we value efficiency over worker’s rights? A machine can’t get injured, or take a sick day, or get stuck in traffic. Sure, there may be a certain degree of maintenance involved, but you only need a few trained specialists to keep a machine going. From a business perspective, it would be foolish not to capitalize on investing in automation. But where does that leave your average middle-class American? Unemployment has certainly been a huge buzzword in American politics, especially since 2008, and our current president has made it clear he means to create a tremendous amount of jobs for Americans during his time in office. With the imminent threat of machines stealing our jobs, politicians will have to focus on legislating this issue in some way – especially if they are seeking future reelection. But with these advances in artificial intelligence, maybe our policymakers of the future will be computers. Our country is so politically divided as it stands, and there are so many interests at play in our legislature, a rational, unbiased means of legislation is exactly what we need. Whether the idea of legislation by artificial intelligence seems like the obvious the next step for human life or simply too dystopian to stomach, this issue will certainly be an interesting one to follow in the years to come.