Edge of Innovation

Are robots ruining our childhood dreams?

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

Can you remember what job you wanted when you were a kid? Perhaps you wanted to be a firefighter or a vet? An astronaut or a builder? Some of these childhood fancies would have been achievable with the right qualifications. But for young children growing up today, many professions will be drastically changed by new technology, dashing many a childhood dream.

“Daddy, I want to be a train driver”
Children have an enduring fascination with trains, something the Thomas the Tank Engine empire fosters and plays upon. But here’s the disappointing part: there’s a strong chance that we won’t need train drivers in the future. Driverless trains are already a reality in cities across the world. By the time kids today grow up, they all might be.

“Mummy, I want to be a firefighter”
Are you sure? Why send a fragile human into a raging inferno when you can send a remote-controlled TAF35 robot with a massive mist cannon. Firefighting robots won’t replace human firefighters completely, but they could potentially reduce their numbers in the future.

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Are remote-controlled robots like this TAF35 the future of firefighting?

“When I grow up I want to be a doctor”
About that… Yes, we’re always going to need people to care for others. But the traditional role of medical staff is going to change. Back in 2012, Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla wrote an article entitled ‘Do We Need Doctors Or Algorithms?’ It envisions a healthcare future where most visits to your GP are replaced by wearable health tracking and AI-powered remote diagnosis.

Computers are already having an impact. In Japan, an artificial intelligence compared a patient’s data to a database of 20 million cancer research papers, correctly identifying a rare form of leukemia that human physicians had missed. An impressive feat, but doctors do have some time on their side. As Medical Futurist reminds us: “there is currently no algorithm or smartphone app for empathy or understanding.”

“I’m going to be a builder when I grow up”
TV shows like Bob The Builder and toys like LEGO foster the idea of construction at an early age. But traditional building techniques are changing. Drones will map and monitor building sites; automated bulldozers will clear the ground; while giant 3D printers will squirt out houses and office blocks layer by layer (or brick by 3D-printed brick).

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This giant 3D printer is designed to build a house out of clay.

“When I grow up, I want to be a pilot”
You can still be one. Computers haven’t made pilots redundant, but they have changed the nature of flying. “We have gone from flying entire flights by manually manipulating the controls to flying them using technology for most of the flight and flying manually for only a few minutes,” says Miracle on the Hudson hero Sully Sullenberger.

“In spite of technology’s continuously improving reliability,” he adds, “anyone who doubts that it can fail at the most inopportune time has likely never used a computer.”

“I want to be an astronaut”
My five year-old son wants to go into space and his prospects are improving all the time. Not via applications to NASA or to the European Space Agency. Tim Peake is proof that the traditional route is a hard one. But by buying a ride from a private space company.

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Private space companies like SpaceX will make it easier for people to earn their astronaut wings.

Firms such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Bigelow Aerospace and Virgin Galactic will ultimately offer everyone the chance to become an astronaut. Even if you’re a passenger on a suborbital jolly, as long as you travel above an altitude of 100km you’ll earn those astronaut wings.

“I want to be an asteroid miner”
Think of some of the jobs people do today — app developer, Uber driver, drone racer and YouTuber. According to the World Economic Forum, “jobs exist now that we’d never heard of a decade ago. One estimate suggests that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that aren’t on our radar yet.”

So, yes. Technology might spoil some of the dreams we used to have. But it will encourage new ones. So don’t be surprised if, by 2030, today’s kids have jobs as privacy consultants or organ designers, drone traffic controllers or vertical farmers.

Main image copyright: Shutterstock/Romrodphoto

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