It’s a MAD world My Master's!

Even before the invention of the microchip, people were excited by the thought of a future transformed by automation. As this alternated with discussions of what we would do if we heard the "Four Minute Warning" (of a nuclear attack) the former discussion was usually wildly optimistic.

Robots would enable shorter working hours - and working lives. We would all enjoy more leisure and opportunities for further education and travel etc etc. In short we would lead idyllic lives while the robots performed all the unpleasant, dirty, dangerous and boring mundane tasks. Of course this begged many questions but was, at least, hopeful, and distracted attention from the cold war and MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction.

Then in the 1970’s the microchip was invented. And the world WAS transformed. As usual there were many advantages, but some disadvantages, and potential for more in the future as anyone reading science fiction will be aware. The other evening I heard part of a discussion on TV [don't know what or who it was] but one speaker was saying that increased automation had meant - and this was due to increase - that in effect the opposite to our early, utopian expectations had happened. That now the robots i.e. the computers, were taking over the skilled jobs and that humans were left with the unskilled mundane jobs. These are often low-paid and require little training so that we will see more and more people on zero hour contracts, and in temporary and casual employment.

Healthcare was one of the areas where humans would still be required but this would only be the hands-on part of the job. Many other functions and many other Healthcare jobs can, and will, be taken over by computers in the future. Now we will all agree that there have been many benefits from technology and automation in Healthcare. Diagnostic procedures and surgery are now far less invasive and more effective, for example, and we can all think of further examples. The downside is that human qualities can't be delivered by computers. If the remaining healthcare "jobs" are low-grade and untrained then no value will be placed on compassion, experience, empathy and the other non-physical needs of the patient. Wherever and whenever this happens, outcomes are poorer, this has been demonstrated time and time again. We have seen this trend for some years now.

I hear many complaints about the computer demanding the Dr's attention to the extent that he/she scarcely bothers to even glance at the patient during a consultation. In our hospitals it has been necessary to re-train nurses to treat patients with compassion and respect. A generation of nurses were recruited for their technical skills and "people skills” were not thought important. Many of us have experienced care by ‘tick box’ - delivered by disheartened and overburdened NHS staff. Financial constraints and overwhelming demand have driven the one-size-fits-all approach. Medicine is becoming de-humanised.

But why not? A chilling thought, but if computers are more useful than humans - once humans are no longer capable of servicing the computers - then what is their point? Is it worth “fixing them“ ? When machines are no longer of use do we waste time and money on preserving them?

You can see why I no longer read Sci Fi. The outcome will probably fall somewhere between the Utopian view of robots waiting on us hand and foot and of our becoming slaves to the machine. I hope, for the moment the human race still has the upper hand so we must learn to assert ourselves- stand up to the Giants - decide how far we want this to go. If nothing else we can slow the process a little to allow time for reflection and as usually happens, future events may influence matters in ways we can't even imagine.  At least we have to hope so.

See the heading. The playwright wasn't wrong. 


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