Week 8: Automation

This week’s readings were interesting, as each one explored how the future of automation could unfold.  Greenfield suggest we will use automation to get rid of rid of jobs that are: “dull, dirty, difficult or dangerous” (184).  It seems warehouses and trucks will soon catch up and offer driverless transportation.  While the exact unfolding of automation could develop in a number of ways, it’s already happening: we’ve all heard about Amazon’s drone deliveries and USF’s autonomous shuttle.  With all the crazy drivers, especially on the road here in Florida, it’s hard to contest this future of autonomous vehicles.  I would happily ditch my car for an autonomous vehicle.  I could work, while commuting!  An academic’s dream come true.

While cost is surely a huge concern, Greenfield gives numbers to show how it will be less expensive to opt for automated machines in place of human labor.  One example he gives is the cost associated with a warehouse operator ($36K/year) vs. the same cost for a palletizing robot ($15K).  Plus—I’ve heard of the vending machine craze in Japan, where most everyday items can be purchased from a machine.  And touch screen ordering can already be seen in many eateries. Restaurants (such as Stacked in San Diego) play up the novelty of the tablet ordering system, which makes the food completely customizable.  One drawback is that it takes much longer for a group of say 4 people to order when each person wants to spend time looking over their options and typing it in. Does this lead to longer table occupation times, thus losing the establishment money?  Many touchscreen ordering systems get customers interested by the customability, but I bet that will go away once they get more popular (in an effort to save money from the time it takes to order).

This week’s fiction story, Social Services, detailed an automated future.  It was interesting to see how a woman could interact with an artificial program, as her supervisor.  The story hit on the idea of no more cars on the road, but failed to explain how people get around in that version of the future.  With so few cars on the road, it appears people either don’t leave the cities or use public transportation, rather than use the autonomous vehicles?! I had many other questions about this future, that were not explained.  Instead, it took a horror story turn to show how the women could be lured into a bad situation because of all the automation.

The theme in Greenspan’s piece discussed this utopian vs. dystopian future.  All of this week’s readings seemed to hinge on this question of this is what could or might happen.  Greenspan toys with this concept of speculation.

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