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Welcome to your fully automated future

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Since the Industrial Revolution, people have been at once enthralled and terrified by machines.

Some hailed the increasing mechanization of industry as the dawning of a new age, one in which productivity and prosperity would skyrocket, leading to an abundance of jobs that would surely lift the lower urban class out of the depths of poverty.

The working class, meanwhile, saw industrialization as a looming threat to their livelihoods, worried that their jobs had been reduced to mere pedal pushing and lever twisting.

The truth, as it often does, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

It's redundant to mention all the ways in which automation has significantly improved our lives. The proof is all around us.

And yet, for the innumerable problems technology has and will continue to solve, it also creates an entirely new set.

Take, for example, the aviation industry, which has, from a safety standpoint, improved by leaps and bounds since the days when pilots would manually white-knuckle their way through every bump and lurch of a patch of turbulence. But thanks to the development of autopilot, the human error factor has been reduced tremendously, and the number of airliner crashes along with it.

That's not to say there haven't been grievous exceptions along the way.

In May of 2009, Air France Flight 447 was headed from Rio De Janeiro to Paris when something went horribly wrong.

The plane had the innovative "fly-by-wire" computer-based control system installed, designed to interpret what a pilot wants to do. If, for example, the pilot pulled back on the control stick, the system would assume he wants the plane to pitch up, and would smoothly execute the command on its own.

But on this particular night, somewhere over the Atlantic, the system suddenly switched into a certain mode that left the pilots befuddled and unable to fly their own plane. When a co-pilot pulled back on the stick, sending the plane's nose in the air, it began to go into a stall. Normally, the automated system would have prevented this, but, in this particular mode, that wasn't the case. The team of pilots couldn't understand what was happening, which begins to make sense when you consider how much their roles had been diminished with the industry's increasing reliance on automation.

Mere minutes later, the plane and its 228 passengers plummeted into the ocean, killing everyone onboard.

It was a tragedy that should have easily been prevented with ample experience and training.

"We appear to be locked into a cycle in which automation begets the erosion of skills or the lack of skills in the first place and this then begets more automation," said former pilot William Langewiesche, in a recent episode of the phenomenal design podcast, 99% Invisible, which delved into the crash.

This erosion can be seen in less measurable ways, too.

Take that smartphone in your pocket. For every convenience it adds to our daily lives, it chips away at some of the very basic skills we used to think nothing of.

When's the last time you had to navigate your way to a foreign place without the help of Google Maps? Not as easy as you thought it would be.

And while few will argue having a digital encyclopedia at the tip of our fingers is necessarily a bad thing, numerous studies have shown how smartphones serve to shorten our attention spans and lower the quality of our social interactions.

I'm not trying to sound like a Luddite here. There's no question that our world — at least in the abstract — has been transformed into a more connected, informed place.

But at what cost?

Technologies , by design, aim to remove the human factor out of the equation,  just like the fly-by-wire system that was famously pitched as being so simple even "a concierge" could fly a plane.

And it's that dehumanization — the very same that has fuelled entire subgenres of robophobic sci-fi and horror fiction — we should be most wary of.

The truth is the complete and utter infiltration of technology into our daily lives is no longer a looming possibility, but a reality. And, by and large, we've treated that new normal with a sort of ambivalent shrug.

So it's high time we ask ourselves an important question: How much of our humanity, in all its messy, fallible glory, are we willing to lose in the name of progress?

For once, I think it's an answer Siri can't provide.

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