driverless carAutomation is coming to disrupt everyone’s lives. It’s predicted that soon, driverless vehicles will render the truck driving profession obsolete. Many other industries will be affected as well, including medicine. What might this new world look like, and how will we adapt to it?

The impact on employment is obvious and will be massive. When I was coming up in the 1960’s it was predicted that automation would free us from work, that most of our time would be spent in leisure. Leisure sounds nice. Unemployment doesn’t. When the machine takes your job, what do you do to earn a living? Learning a different line of work (retraining) has been the suggested answer – if the machine takes your job, make your job fixing the machine when it breaks down. Or, make it your job to design better machines. Essentially, that is what those of us in the medical device design field do. But the machines could be coming for our jobs too. Expert systems and artificial intelligence could solve design problems, just as our current computers solve computational and data management problems.

Robotic surgery will continue to advance, to a level we probably can’t even fathom today. Tasks beyond surgery will be robotized – catheterization for example. Hospital laboratories are already being automated to a high degree. That trend will accelerate and will become pervasive.

In all, capital equipment will be replacing human labor. Of course, this has been happening since the advent of the industrial revolution. What’s different now though is the pace of technological advancement and, following, the pace of replacing humans with machines.

The shift to automation will leave no sphere of human endeavor untouched. Machines will be making art.

Where does that leave us? It’s easy to imagine a dystopian future, with rampant joblessness and the dire societal problems that creates. Without income, who will be able to purchase the goods and services of our automated future? Will it simply be given away for free? Somehow I doubt it. Though it will be easy to produce, few will have the means to consume. And yet we will adapt. We always do, or we perish. In a future dominated by machines that do the work that humans once did, the value of human interaction will increase. Medicine and healthcare are certainly areas where it will be difficult to eliminate the need for human-to-human interaction. We will adapt to be more empathetic, caring and cooperative. We will turn our attention from the production of things to the making of meaning.