Entrepreneurs Will Make Sure the Future is Bright, Even When the Robots Take Over

by Greg Prestemon

On an almost daily basis I read or hear about the automated future and how many jobs will be lost to artificial intelligence and robots.

That may happen.

Or it may not.

If there’s one thing recent history has taught me, it’s that I’m really bad at predicting what the future will look like. I’m not the only one—I remember watching The Jetsons when I was a kid, and I was sure that by 2017 we would have flying cars.

It’s 2017, and my car is still firmly land-based.

The Jetsons didn’t just miss on technology. In that show George Jetson is still the sole earner, their daughter is obsessed with boys, their son Leroy is “the smart one,” and there isn’t a single minority anywhere. Life, thankfully, is very different here in the real future. We might not have flying cars in 2017, but we have amazing female entrepreneurs and leaders, and I just met with a social entrepreneur from India who’s starting a cricket league right here in St. Charles County.

It isn’t just The Jetsons that missed the mark. Look around, and it’s easy to find experts in 2006 saying the housing market was going nowhere but up for the foreseeable future—or experts in 2016 who were so sure that the Brexit vote and the U.S. election would have different outcomes than the ones that occurred.

And ever since one caveman figured out that stones make better weapons than sticks, there have been warnings that technological innovation was going to create mass disruption and chaos—and it often has.

Typewriter manufacturers went out of business when computers became cheap. Automobiles made buggy makers unnecessary.

Those adjustments were painful, but overall, as technology has progressed, the human condition has drastically improved.

And there is no reason that cycle can’t continue, even if the pace of disruption accelerates—because while disruption causes some pain, it also creates new opportunities.

I see that every day in the EDC startup facility and in OPO Startups. The barriers for entrepreneurs in a wide variety of industries have been vastly lowered, and many of these disruptions have become the building blocks for rapidly growing businesses. Manufacturing is one example where high barriers to entry are giving way to tiny manufacturing companies creating cutting-edge products using 3D printers and the equipment they can use in makerspaces, like Inventor Forge here in St. Charles County.

The future, will, undoubtedly, look very different than the present.

It always has.

And policymakers need to be proactive and wisely invest public resources to help people affected by technological change.

But more than ever, because of these disruptive changes, people have the power to take their future into their own hands. Those small manufacturers I mentioned earlier are doing that in a very literal sense. As scary as the future can seem, it’s also exciting to see the opportunity to become an entrepreneur opening up to more people every day.

If you live in St. Charles County, the next time you read about the nightmare of automation and disruption, come and meet the men and women who are building our economic future.

They will impress you.

They will ease your fear.

And hopefully, they will inspire you to take your future into your own hands, using tools not even The Jetsons dreamed of.

Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.