In the late 80s through to the 90s film studios were obsessed with post year-2000 dystopian plots. The scenario of these movies was almost always based on man vs machine, the latter hellbent on destroying humans. These were horror movies 70s and 80’s babies grew up watching. From Robocop, Terminator, The Matrix, I, Robot and millions of meters of reels of films all warning this generation of what could potentially happen. We were entertained and imagined how in the future these could come true. Today in 2019, I, an 80s baby still imagine war with robots is far in the future, but I am wrong, I am very wrong. My generation is in a full-blown war with robots, and we are losing despite all the movies and games that warned us about the future.
Today, a day in 2019, 100 years before the time I thought we humans would fight robots, I get another WhatsApp message, a friend telling me they are being retrenched. Here we are in a country were Uber Eats only reaches a few places in Soweto and most people do not know what fibre connectivity is. How are we already fighting machines? How are we being thrown into poverty in our 20s and 30s because of technology replacing us in the workplace? Only a week ago we were fighting against the use of the apartheid flag, 25 years into the rainbow nation. We are heading back to the townships because we can’t afford rent in the suburbs. The fridge and pantry look exactly like the cabinet we thought we left back in the 90s and 80s, empty cabinets filled with ‘kuzolunga mntwanam’. We are telling our children the same thing, but this time explaining to brown babies who only understand a few words of native tongues. Fuck man, we did not go anywhere. We are our parents, we are suffering, we are poor, the job market does not want us. We have degrees, we are eloquent, we have white people reporting to us but here we are no different from our parents. Damn!
We are proficient in analysing how being retrenched is a result of exploitative labour practices and being told that the ‘cutting down’ is a result of ‘technological advancement’. We have carte blanche access to information on our hi-tech phones that cost a fortune and can do everything but help us argue with a taxi driver or a security guard. The truth of the matter is that with all our degrees and all the information in the palms of our hands we can’t fight technology for positions in the workplace. We cannot compete with machines in tasks that are repetitive or calculable. Navigators in the aviation industry have been replaced with GPS technology. Bank employees are replaced by algorithms and ATMs. Accountants, Auditors, Actuaries can start counting their days against supercomputing algorithms. Taxi drivers naboabasali, self-driving cars will be a norm. Even your barber will not survive against machines that can cut hair by day and perform brain surgery in the evening. Doctors will one day be told by a machine what is wrong with a patient, a detailed test result issued in minutes, medicine prescribed, paid for, dispensed and all without the doctor involved. Your GP’s only job would be to write fake sick notes. Not much difference there.
The only thing left to be in this world for the human being would be to be human. The machines can play chess but can’t imagine. Neither can animals. We will have to occupy ourselves with producing art. Something only humans can do. Singing, writing heart-wrenching songs, creating and telling stories. Spiritual healers, fake pastors will sit safely because no machine can bring back a lost lover. No march or protest about retrenchments because of automation will stop the replacement of Ous Pinky there at PnP… even Ous Idahwill lose her job of responding to ‘AUTHORISE!!!”.
We have a choice, albeit limited, to adapt and change career courses for ourselves and our children. The only way to survive the future is to be human. The following are faculties in which robots won’t be able to do better than humans. Maybe that’s what you need to start educating yourself and your child into doing.
•Creativity in the arts
•Critical thinking and Strategy in business
•Empathy and communication
•Rehabilitation and mentoring
These are some of the robot-proof professions. Skills that are needed to fix something a robot can’t: the human spirit and humanity in humans.
***In South Africa prophets who can bring back lost lovers are also robot-proof, yes