The Phantom Age of Automation

Looking at the present through the eyes of the past is a surrealistic experience. For example, in the movie Back to the Future Part II, the protagonist travels from the year 1989 to 2015 and finds a drastically different world. Cars can fly thanks to garbage-powered engines, and the latest trends are skateboards without wheels and self-drying jackets. While this may have been an overly ambitious stab at the future of technology, the question has been raised as to why we have managed to make much advancement in technology without being able to allow humans to work less.

In the past, we as a people believed that machines would do the tasks humans couldn’t or didn’t want to do and do them more efficiently. This holds true for many things, but rather than lifting the burden we find ourselves entrenched in a sea of work left to do. I believe that the reason for this paradoxical disappointment is the one human quality that computers still haven’t quite mastered: abstract thinking. While computers may be able to perform logical and repetitive tasks with ease, should their programming come up against a problem it can’t figure out they will fail to do their job. These lapses in computers’ abilities are the reason for humans having to work harder, because with computers failing humans often find themselves with a mess to clean up.

You can notice this with almost any instance of computers. How often has your personal computer crashed or given you annoying error messages when trying to perform (what you believed to be) simple tasks? Technology today is temperamental, and lay people become frustrated with their computers the more times it fails. The extra work computers cause us balances the expediting of tasks that they perform, which is why we often feel like our technology is not nearly where it should be.

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