It's a whole new world for the new year! 

When talented Mr. Robot reaches beyond the automat

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - baby driver Delivery robots to replace takeaway drivers in London trial.

As a new year breaks, it feels like a whole new world. Time to turn the page, start again, renew, refresh and reboot — even if you don't make a single new year's resolution.

But this year, more than ever, it seems we truly have entered a whole new world, and that's without putting what's happening in the White House or House of Hollywood on the table. No, here we focus on what's on the table in our kitchens and dining halls, in this case a whole new world of food and drink that once might have been relegated to Ursula K. Le Guin's speculative fiction.

I've written here about some of these "new world" markers this past year — clean meat breweries that "grow" meat in petri dishes; the latest in cheerful robots that can serve you dinner. But such changes regarded as a whole become a potent aggregate with huge potential for possibly unnerving impacts. Unnerving only for the timid, mind you, but exciting for those who love to go where no woman, or man, has gone before. The rest of us will vacillate somewhere in between.

Are you ready for a whole new world that's only going to ramp up this year?


Israeli historian and bestselling author, Yuval Noah Harari, is an expert on how past technologies have shaped us. He's most recently made a name for himself with one little phrase that belies the depth of his thinking and research behind it: "The useless class," the working people who are going to be left behind, even further behind than they already are, due to automation and artificial intelligence.

Along those lines, a report, "The Talented Mr. Robot," from Canada's own Brookfield Institute concludes that 42 per cent of jobs Canadians are paid to do could be automated today with existing technology.

We're pretty familiar with automation and AI taking over, say, the entertainment industry (Yay! That should cut down on the entitlement to sexually harass women.); how drones have already delivered beer in Minnesota and pizza in Mumbai; and how bots are running around on the floor at Toronto's Hudson's Bay distribution centre right now to get your sweater delivered.

Also, people often relegate the automation or AI effect to a few old rust-belt industries limping along in southern Ontario or near a pipeline in Alberta. Overall, we seem blinded to automation or AI around what we eat and drink, but big chunks of work in "The Talented Mr. Robot" report are in Canada's agricultural sector as well as professional sciences and services connected to food and drink.

Some of the jobs analyzed for the report include agricultural and fish-product inspectors; farm supervisors; livestock inspectors; water and waste treatment plant operators; aquaculture workers and marine harvesters; water well drillers; and waterworks and gas maintenance workers (you know, the ones who ensure the gas lines to run that Wolfgang Puck stove you love are safe).

Then there are the veterinarians who keep our livestock in good health, along with land-use planners, who determine where farmlands will be, and utilities managers, who track the sewage we dispose of and how much water flows from our taps. Chefs, bartenders and butchers were also analyzed — and the list goes on.

Not to say that 42 per cent of all jobs in all these areas could be done by automation that currently exists, but that the potential is there to some degree or another — sometimes way over 42 per cent.

Some of the study's conclusions will really resonate with people in Whistler's service industries. There's a 91.5-per-cent probability of automation for service providers in service areas like food counter attendants and kitchen helpers, and a greater chance (94 per cent) for food and beverage servers! (I hear the sushi train pulling in now...)

An even higher probability of automation exists for hosts, hostesses and maître d's, those helpful professionals who manage the front of house for formal restaurants. Although they make up a teeny proportion of Canada's workforce (0.00132 per cent), they're a big part of Whistler, and there's a 97-per-cent probability their jobs will be automated.

Think about it. You might want to chase up a copy of one of Harari's books (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind or Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow) while you do.

In the meantime, it's "back to the future" with self-driving vehicles, especially trucks that deliver food and drink to the supply chain. It was back in September 2015 that Ontario became the first jurisdiction in Canada to take California's lead and create regulations for testing autonomous or self-driving vehicles.

B.C. has no such regulations, but Uber has already tested its self-driving cars in Toronto and elsewhere, and the Uber-owned start-up, Otto, made its first run with a driverless truck last year in Colorado delivering — what else? — 50,000 cans of Budweiser beer. The driver, the human driver, that is, did yoga en route.

Now that deserves a new year's toast. Otherwise, you might cry in your beer over truckers, and beer tasters, joining the useless class.

IntelligentX brewing in the U.K. uses a form of AI (a machine learning algorithm) that applies 100,000 data points to improve the taste of beer. One of its founders holds a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford on machine learning — a field of computer science that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who wants to be programmed for machine learning.

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