The end is nigh

Came across an opinion piece that made the argument of technology diminishing social interaction and jobs. Definitely a good point because it is happening and is being rolled out as we speak. Though it made me think more about technology as being a high end option even though it does eradicate some jobs. If you look at major supermarkets in Australia most will have both human and automatic checkouts. Usually there will be one person on a set of ten self service checkouts who act as maintenance and supervisors. This mix though of both personal and automatic checkouts is fairly efficient most of the time. The problem with automating all of the service is that costs do rise and there is still difficulty supervising all of the checkouts.

The methods that are flagged are fully automated and the user simply takes an item which is charged to the user without any machine or human interaction. This sounds ominous because essentially the costs for this set up will come down and become highly accessible. The point I want to make is that at the moment consumer level technology is not going to go down in any major way. Because of the way technology works it is essentially complex and becomes very expensive. Even if you don’t factor in obsolescence there is a major financial cost to make the magic happen. The cost of one engineer even if part time or casual will probably cost more than a number of lower paid checkout staff.

Just look at web design even though costs and accessibility came down substantially from tens of thousands of dollars to maybe a few hundred dollars the technology powering serious businesses will still cost tens of thousands of dollars. The amount of technology employed to create this idealised world of walking in and walking out is only really an option for the bigger technological player that have the money and means. It isn’t really a surprise that Amazon wants to create these types of experiences. The huge amount of investment in technology and their own marketplace of technology powers their retail enterprise and other companies too. It is only the biggest technology companies that can pull this type of thing off and if you look at a long term trickle down effect it can’t actually happen. Sorry for making a bad joke of it but in terms of the biggest technology companies it is self service all of the way.

As far as less human interaction is concerned it is a valid point and we do live in our own bubbles of opinions but jobs will be there and most companies who are pretty big can only afford a mix of technology because the people who really own this make more money from making it expensive and just that little bit out of touch for everyone. Technology works like inequality, it is a social tool to keep the big players on top of the game. That is the point it isn’t for everyone and every company though can use a mix of options in the market which is good anyway.

The real pressures are less jobs but that has happened from outsourcing primarily not automation. The idea of automation is actually quite scary but it is the highest level of technology and it has to remain on the top of its game to be able to survive in a competitive market. Engineering and high level interactions through software will always be expensive just like web design essentially still is even though the cost dropped a hell of a lot. Though if you just a want a web site about gardening that is pretty much free. Also if you don’t want to talk to anyone and just walk into a store and pick stuff up and walk out with it that will still be considered stealing in most cases for many decades to come.

To conclude though what I have outlined is the built in inequality of technology and how it could lead to more inequality and that was the original point of the article I read but in terms of how that pans out in stealing our jobs or our attention there is always some level of inequality built in to every interaction in any society since forever. That has been the case since civilisation began but automated technology isn’t the end game it is simply the current one. The marketing is better than the reality in any case. Though people will always find a way to survive whether they are at the top of the heap or bottom of the heap.

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