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I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Automated

March 25th, 2008 by Bob Bly

Decades ago, there was a terrific restaurant in NYC with no waiters: the Horn & Hardart Automat.

All the food was displayed behind glass windows. To order, you inserted your bills and coins in a slot, pushed a button, removed your sandwich or pie, and put it on your tray — no waiting, no being ignored by busy wait staff, no tipping.

Now, automation and self-service are returning with a vengeance:

** In LA, you can buy medical marijuana from a vending machine if you have a magnetic card authorizing you to do so.

** Expensive consumer electronics, including cell phones and iPods, can also be purchased from vending machines, eliminating the need to go to Best Buy or Radio Shack.

** At my local supermarket, there is now a self-service line with no cashier or clerk to ring up your items or pack your groceries.

“Are we coming to a day and age when we will never have to interact with another person ever again?” asks NYC radio personality Elvis Duran.

Of course, there are cons as well as pros to automation and self service. When buying consumer electronics, you can’t haggle over the price with a vending machine or robot.

Presumably, you get less service with self service (inherent in the term “self service”).

You also deny yourself the expert advice and help of knowledgeable salespeople, such as the do-it-yourself tips you might get from the older clerk in a good neighborhood hardware store.

But even that kind of expert advice may soon be computerized: in France, they are developing a PC software program that can substitute for a live psychotherapist.

Beta versions have received high marks from both patients and professionals alike.

Is there any of us who isn’t at risk of becoming obsolete and replaced by a machine sooner or later?

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2008 at 7:06 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 responses about “I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Automated”

  1. Bill Perry said:

    Bob,
    Thing thing about the psychotherapist thing really got me thinking. What kind of “High Marks” are these people giving the thing?

    I think the purpose of a GOOD psychotherapy is to get the patient/client/customer healed as fast as possible. Many therapists, though, see patients for anywhere from months to upwards of 20+ years!!!

    Is it possible that the criteria for “good” on it might actually serve to keep people in therapy longer?

    And, if this is the case, is it also possible that some of these other things might actually serve to make life harder in the long run? I think you might have hit the nail with that question in your post.

  2. Brandon W said:

    Max Kalehoff, vice president of marketing for Clickable, argued on his blog just the other day that automation is going to cut into the advertising industry. See http://tinyurl.com/2o4zvx

    The idea that a computer would really understand the complexity of human behavior is preposterous. If computers could quantify human behavior then economic forecasts would always be accurate; and we now how inaccurate they usually are. BusinessWeek Senior Writer Stephen Baker addresses some of this in his upcoming book “The Numerati”.

    The fact is, advertising is a social science not mathematics. No computer will ever manage all the intricate variables (and their interaction) of a single human mind, much less an entire market full of them. I’m not even worried about advertising being outsourced to India or China – they just can not understand out culture well enough to create good advertising (and vice versa, us for their culture). Computers will never even do /that/ well.

    On a side note, I’m personally completely annoyed with the push to self-service. It’s an excuse to push operational costs off onto the customers under the guise of convenience.

  3. Brandon W said:

    Pardon the missed typos above. My eyes are falling out of my head from looking at a computer screen too much.

  4. Michael said:

    Resistance is futile.

  5. Gary (aka fool4jesus) said:

    Is it possible that the criteria for “good” on it might actually serve to keep people in therapy longer?

    I think very nearly. I zoomed in on the same thing. I am a volunteer peer counselor (meaning I do volunteer counseling but have no sheepskin) and I recall in training one of the common counseling styles they talked about was the Rogerian method where you primarily just echo back what the patient is saying. Afterward you can give your view but with no implication that one is “right” and other is “wrong” – and honestly I question how much of that is actually done in practice.

    So, one can see how they could automate that type of function. When I was in high school, I wrote a program kind of like that.

    User: I am not happy.
    My program: So you are not happy.
    User: I hate my life.
    My program: I hear you saying that you hate your life.

    And so forth…

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  11. About Chips said:

    This article is a very interesting read and is very futuristic for its time of being published.

    Automation is inevitable. As is always with a great invention, the early days bring challenges and threaten some livelihoods. Lets take the example of ecommerce or online shopping, when it started becoming popular many book stores and its employees facing immense pressure, but eventually everybody gained.

    Automation will initially make many people jobless, but eventually people will get employment and skill training in machine learning itself. As we humans progress, manual labour will become obsolete and people will be trained to do skilled work.

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