We live in a world that often seems dominated by apps, where wide-eyed dreams of jetpacks and moon tourism have been replaced by the surreal day-to-day of Twitter bots and self-driving cars. Strange as today’s digital shenanigans might seem, they hint at a much starker technological shift still to come. In a word, the future is robots. In a better word, the future is automation, as algorithms large, small, and totally inscrutable transform our lives. Consider the extent to which automation already impacts us. Intelligent algorithms are the foundation of Google’s online searches, Twitter’s customized feeds, and Facebook’s entire platform. Algorithms drive large portions of the stock market, predict storm paths, and pilot rockets.
So what does this all mean for families? For starters, it tells us that change, and probably radical change, is coming. While experts don’t agree on the scale or speed at which tasks will be absorbed by algorithms, technology is on track to push some people out of the workforce and make the basic things we do, like banking and even learning in school, very different. “When automation made a leap forward, it’s all about our ability to adapt,” says Martin Ford, an economist and bestselling author of Rise of the Robots. This ability starts at home. When a family becomes informed about their tech usage, they will be better prepared for careers, be able to take advantage of money-saving opportunities, and follow dreams never before imagined.
A Family of Early Adopters
There’s actually a very good reason to try out all the latest tools and gadgets: Practice makes perfect and by learning to learn how new technologies work, you and your kids will be ahead of the curve. Whether this means tinkering with an intelligent security camera or buying a suite of smart speakers, leaning into new tech is a way to explore the world, and ready everyone for coming changes. In the case of various smart home devices and family budget apps, it can also save you money through energy efficiency and improved money management.
For the future job market, the benefits of being able to adapt are clear. While robotics and intelligent algorithms are growth industries, there will never be enough jobs created in those fields to accommodate the potential millions forced out of the workplace. “There’s going to be winner takes all effect,” says Ford. “A few good people will become roboticists, or hold other high-tech positions, but many more will be left behind.”
However, since automation is projected to eventually insinuate itself into nearly every industry, this is the perfect time to embrace that tech in its nascent, present-day form. Focus on understanding the benefits and the boundaries of automation as it exists today, and in the years ahead. One example: Download a messaging service for the family and use it to communicate with each other, despite everyone being in the same house. As the family learns together — trying out a wide range of bots to automate messages, or creating GIFs to send to each other — they’re able to learn an unknown program faster, expanding beyond texting as their only means of communications, and, importantly, learn to really enjoy new technologies. It might even help parents gain insights that they can bring to work — impressing all with their knowledge of important communication programs.
There are other life-long skills that can be taught through technology — like saving money. As soon as your child is old enough to start a savings account, make sure they interact with it as they will when they’re adults — namely, through online and app-based interfaces. Simultaneously log into the account on a Web browser on a computer and then through an app on your smartphone. Show them the different interfaces, and then get into the money management tools available — the charts and graphs and Web-based tips — that are often baked into the software. The idea is not to turn them into day traders, but to get them comfortable with, and even excited about, managing money online.
Part of the learning process for parents is also reconsidering the knee-jerk response that many have to screen time. “My greatest concern is that if we don’t figure out a way to adapt to all this, there’s going to be a backlash, and people will turn against technology,” says Ford. “We don’t want to say to our children or grandchildren this is it, no more technology, because it’s too complicated for us to understand.”
Instead of banning it, make sure screen time is monitored and that you go into settings and make everything child-friendly — so that you can let your kids safely explore the brave new digital world that is before us all. Digital, virtual, and ultimately artificially intelligent interfaces are now part of the human experience, and encouraging kids to dig deeper into the underlying technology behind the code is the first step towards taking control of it.
The Human Touch
No matter how much of our lives become automated, our ability to communicate, interact with, and feel compassion for our fellow human is a skill that no robot can take over. This is why it’s an especially essential one to foster in your kids. No amount of networked computers can replicate the hard-to-quantify power of face-to-face interactions.
This starts by teaching kids old-fashioned communication techniques including basic etiquette, letter writing, and public speaking. Such skills are more important than ever to get ahead in life. And don’t forget fostering their imagination. If nothing else, the childhood fantasies of holding a genuinely heroic job — like a first responder, who is unlikely to ever be replaced by a robot — are more relevant in the automated era ahead. To add to that, there are many technologies our children will take for granted as adults that haven’t even been invented yet. Being ready to make the most of these requires flexibility and creative thinking. By embracing technology now, a family will be better prepared to make the most of this fast-changing world, planning ahead for whatever the future throws our way.