The upcoming inauguration in Seattle of Amazon.go – the first grocery store with no cashiers and no checkout lines – epitomises the coming wave of automation and jobs. In the U.S. alone, there are currently 3.4 million cashiers, 4.5 million retail salespeople, and 2.4 million workers who restock and move cargo around. Not all will lose their jobs and many will transition to a new profession, but the concurrent uncertainty leaves more than 10 million people fearful about their professional future.
Inevitably, these new job-swallowing technologies (e.g. automated supermarkets, driverless trucks or delivery drones) will create anxiety and exacerbate inequalities – fertile ground for populism. To contain this trend, the “winners” from globalization and technology need to compensate the “losers.” Making this happen will dominate the political and economic agenda in 2017. More income redistribution is therefore a given, hence more taxes and greater regulation.
The impact of these technological developments will be complex and multifaceted, but they are certain to worsen the sense of isolation from which we increasingly suffer (more in the Western world than elsewhere). In the August edition of the Wellness Barometer, we discussed how the epidemic of loneliness now affecting Western societies is increasingly viewed as a significant public health issue that deserves public funding (because it costs so much). Some medical research even suggests that loneliness raises the risk of premature death by 26 percent, in part because it enhances the production of cortisol that negatively affects the immune system.
When we end up being served by an army of robots and drones, what will happen to our “humanness”? We are ultra-social mammals whose brains are designed to respond to other people – hence our sense of wellness is inextricably linked to our interaction with others.