Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

2017 - 2018
United Kingdom

    The Need for Automation

        Google, everyone’s favourite search engine, made a product in 2015 that few would expect from the company that is more known for its software-based ventures. It built a car, and not exactly a stylish one at that. The “Firefly” was a round and rather comically shaped white compact car. Not unlike an egg on wheels, there were other crucial components that were missing: steering wheels and pedals. Yet if Google had its way, the car would not need them. Equipped instead with sensors and computers, the Firefly was designed to be a self-driving car. Since then both Google and other automakers have jumped on the bandwagon in pursuing a vision that comes straight out from science fiction. One day, so the dream goes, people would be able to just lounge and relax in cars that will safely get them to their destinations with no active human input.

        This pursuit for driverless cars can be thought of as the continuation of a trend that took off during the Industrial Revolution. Society invented various artificial machines and contraptions that could reduce or replace the physical, organic labour required. They have improved the efficiency of agriculture, manufacturing and transportation and various other fields. We have and still are continuously automating our lifestyles, particularly after the advent of computers. There are even robots that could help people with their life both manually and socially as artificial intelligence continues to develop. The driverless car, in this regard, is nothing particularly outstanding.

        Yet in our march towards increasing automation, there may be a question that society has neglected: do we actually need it? Certainly it is useful to continue research and development from a technological perspective. Only with constant innovation can novel things be discovered, and there are many feats that are beyond human capabilities. Still, there are also comparatively mundane tasks that people are perfectly capable of handling, whether it is driving cars, serving as cashiers or elderly care. In our quest for efficiency and automation, these may be the jobs to be rendered obsolete by machines and computers. If society does not have employment relocation plans for people left behind in this way, then implementing new technological advances may pose an ethical dilemma. This is partly if not mostly a socioeconomic issue, but it is also not a problem that can be considered in isolation. Even if there will be missed opportunities to improve efficiency and corporate profit margins, the lost jobs and the associated costs might be greater for society as a whole. All would be well if societies can quickly provide new roles and retraining for the workforce orphans in this technological age. If not, the concept of driverless cars will face problems beyond those in research and development.

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