Driverless cars and trucks and robots doing jobs now done by humans -- that's the future, the experts predict, as we all demand things faster and available technology makes it possible. Within a decade, they say, our lives will be vastly changed.
Today, I moderated a webinar for the Convenience Distribution Association that focused on how technology will affect the way warehouses will be operated in the future. It was just a snapshot of what we can expect to experience over the next decade in our everyday lives.
The presenter, Dr. Tony Vercillo, an industry consultant who teaches in the Cal State University system, predicted robots infused with artificial intelligence soon will replace workers in many warehouses across the nation, performing tasks that now provide a livelihood for thousands of hourly workers.
He said he visited one huge warehouse where there were only four employees, including a supervisor. All of the routine warehouse tasks previously performed by humans were now being handled by robots. Asked why such a huge investment was made in robots, the company executive replied, "Because robots don't make errors or need vacations and don't need to to take sick days."
Sounds cold, but you can't deny reality. The objective of most businesses is to make money, and while many company executives insist their employees are the big differentiators between themselves and the competition, that only goes so far.
"Eighty to 90 percent of all warehouse activities will be done by robots within the next 10 years," Dr. Vercillo predicted. "The workforce will have to become more sophisticated to adapt to these changes."
He also predicted that "self-driving trucks and cars are coming, and faster than you think." The implications that has for our everyday lives boggles the mind.
If self-driving trucks are used for commercial purposes and are found to be safer and involved in fewer accidents, will Congress mandate them for commercial fleets? Think of the implications that would have for the men and women make a living driving trucks.
Of course, driverless trucks won't have to take breaks as is now required by law. They won't belong to that troublesome Teamsters union, and they won't be looking for pay raises every year or need health insurance coverage. So if they are proven to work and be cost-effective, rest assured they will be implemented.
"How do we reconfigure the workforce to give people the necessary skills to adapt to these changes?" Dr. Vercillo asked? "That's an important question."
It most certainly is.