Ordinary Americans in a Forthcoming Era of Robotics, Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence


The recent presidential election has highlighted deep divisions in the U.S. electorate.  There is clearly pronounced uncertainty and fear about economic security and social equity going forward for Ordinary Americans – those hard-working Americans living in the vast red sea of the 2016 electoral map.

Some of these feelings of uncertainty and fear are intentionally provoked, while others boil up from someplace deeper within us.  The response to these feelings can be categorized into three broad groups. 

There is of course those who use race, sexual orientation, creed, origin and any other difference they can identify to draw lines against those ‘not like us.’  Simple lines for simple views.

More deeply, several alternative viewpoints manifest, quietly but powerfully, moving ethereally from red to blue and back again reflecting their disgust with the ‘simple’ group and those who provoke them.

One large segment of this ‘Quiet but Powerful’ mass resonates with the call back to better times remembered, inspired by visions of the future which feel like their memories of the past.  ‘Make America Great Again’ was clearly motivational for many. 

More abstractly, there is a segment of the the Quiet but Powerful group that knows the future can only be forward – and that the conditions for that future are rapidly evolving with technological innovation, new business models, and new ways of interconnecting with each other for ideas and relationships.

While innovators and bold thinkers become excited knowing that change creates opportunities, such accelerating pace of change in the economy and society (including those enabled by technological innovations) stimulate feelings of uncertainty and fear deeper within many Ordinary Americans. 

Most Ordinary Americans know that the age of autonomous vehicles, robotics, artificial intelligence, and a host of other technological innovations is upon us.  They may not be able to elegantly articulate what these innovations mean to them at this early stage, but they do know that such new technologies will usher in a new wave of change – referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution by the academics.  The fear of average working folks is that they may not survive it.

Ordinary Americans know that technology enables systemic change.  Systemic change creates job displacement.  Displacement creates pools of human capacity – both physically and increasingly cognitively. 

The deeper codes which underlie our vision of the future – currently shrouded in the unknowing:  one estimate holds that 65% of children entering school will go on to jobs that have not yet been conceptualized – is that one’s self-purpose will be lost. 

As a case in point, an individual's ability to earn is a powerful motivator – and discriminator – in the American psyche.  Middle and lower class Americans despise ‘the elites’ who use privilege or ‘the system’ to their advantage – violating the core premise of earning an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage.  They also look down on those at the bottom of socio-economic system who are able bodied but dependent upon social services for food, clothing and housing.

Their fear is that in the future unfolding, they will become ‘one of them.’ 

In other words, when autonomous vehicles eliminate the need for truck drivers or artificial intelligence eliminates routine decision-making by office workers, Ordinary Americans fear being relegated to Elon Musk’s prophesized ‘universal basic income’. 

It is a prospective future anathema to the very identity of Ordinary Americans. 

As we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the greatest challenge we face as thinkers, creatives and innovators is developing new ways to harness the tremendous intellectual, creative and physical capacity of Americans at all socio-economic levels. 

The charge is to conceptualize, design and articulate a vision for this new future which is more empowering to a broader population so that they too become vested in a positive future forward. 

The future as it is currently envisioned involves virtual reality, autonomous cars, drones and robots.  It also involves a hot planet, mass unemployment, and an extraterrestrial settlement on Mars.  None of these visions of the future are satisfactory to Ordinary Americans.

With this call to ‘future design’ in a way which addresses fundamental questions around emerging broad pools of available human capital – both physically and intellectually – it is also important for us to tap into sources of creativity and innovation from unexpected places and by unexpected people – without regard to race, geography, education, sex or sexual orientation, creed or income.  Inspiration often comes from the least anticipated places.  That is what makes American great.

I’ve sketched this thesis out on Medium more fully over the Thanksgiving holiday.  I'd love to hear your comments:

Understanding the Deep Codes Being Triggered within the Electorate

Designing a Future with Ordinary America

Ironheart Corporate Advisory works with companies at the forefront of finding new ways to provision services, interrelate and grow together.  For more information, please see www.ironheart.co or contact me at chris@ironheart.co.  

Cover image:  'School Girl Staring' by Samantha Beddoes (October 26, 2011, unedited), Creative Commons License, Attribution 2.0.