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Monday, July 31, 2017

Does Alexa Want My Job?

“Alexa…would you write my blog for me?” No such luck. And, frankly, I’m glad Alexa can’t! Or Siri. Or any other virtual assistants that are coming on board these days.

I’ve not succumbed yet. No Alexa. No Echo. And for now, no worries.

For the late arrivals to the technology scene, Alexa is Amazon’s virtual personal assistant. Although we really don’t know much about her virtues except that she seems most cooperative in helping where she is able. This non-real-person lives inside the Amazon’s Echo smart speaker. Users are able to dictate commands to the assistant to control products throughout their home, listen to music, and much more.

New “skills” are being added with updated technology. And Alexa/Echo have competition. Apple's Siri and Google Now for example. I have no idea if they get along and play well with others.

These virtual assistants and many other new technologies certainly help to make life easier. Most would say “better.” On the other hand (so to speak), many are beginning to wonder if our devices have created a new monster. We can’t seem to let them out of our sight. Or our hands.

Let me address a much larger concern that is looming with technology. Robots. And I’m not joking.

A plethora of new material has emerged in recent months raising awareness that we are headed toward a “humanless economy.” I spent quite a bit of time on two of my talk show programs dealing with this. There is a sense of urgency arising about how fast the robotic advances are changing our workplaces.

I found great encouragement to discover two articles in July on focused on the rise in robotics. Both are excellent and I would recommend them.

One is titled, “The Luddites and the First Contest of Man Versus Machine.” Here you’ll find a dramatic—and surprising—bit of history from the 18th century that appears to pit certain church people against the industrial revolution.

New machines were coming on line rapidly. Skilled workers were losing their jobs in factories. Families were suffering. Efforts to unionize were being made with limited success. A rebellion was brewing. And the meeting place for several of these desperate workers became a Methodist church. In fact, a group was formed known as the Primitive Methodists to fight what they considered exploitation. It’s quite the story.

Unfortunately, it included violence. To destroy the new machines, young men began to attack factories at night. And they chose the name of a fictional local hero, Ned Ludd. Of course, these rebels became known as “The Luddites.” I’ve wondered about the source of that term.

More sinister considerations emerged with more militant objectives. Gunfights eventually erupted. Court cases followed. The wheels of the justice system, perhaps administered unfairly, took several Luddites to the gallows. Like I said, it’s quite dramatic.

While we are not seeing the same intensity of rebellion today, mass job displacement within the next ten years could change things. We are wise to be thinking ahead. Not just of employment, but for human compassion in several ways.

The Psalmist writes, “In the morning let me hear of your gracious love, for in you I trust. Cause me to know the way I should take, because I have set my hope on you.” (Psalm 143:8, ISV)

Next week, I’ll share the second of those two excellent CT articles. One that offers great insight into how the faith community can lead the way for hope.

In the meantime, I suggest you don’t bond too closely to Alexa. She might have connections with the Evil Empire.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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