22 Jun 2013

Sometimes you can tell that technological progress is blending into a known science fiction scenario. I think right about now is a time to spot several of those - this year is like those special days when you see a lot of shooting stars. 

So, there is the obvious similarity of governments watching (well, storing and monitoring) more and more of everyone's steps to the famous book "1984".

However, there is more. I recently reviewed "Manna", where a complete automation of societey begins not by replacing low-wage humans, but by algorithms taking over middle management to make fast food stores more efficient (by organising the work of the low-wage humans as efficient as it can be). Recently, reports came out how Amazon's warehouses are actually like that: 

Amazon’s software calculates the most efficient walking route to collect all the items to fill a trolley, and then simply directs the worker from one shelf space to the next via instructions on the screen of the handheld satnav device.

Most of the article is about how bad they treat workers, but their fate is not my point here. And anyway, Amazon puts their warehouses in regions which have very few economic options. Consider that locals in the article are sad because they can't work in a mine anymore. My point is that even mines had middle management. Amazon warehouses are optimally efficient with very few middle management positions (mostly, what is left to be done is to ask the system who was the least efficient and fire and replace them). 

Next to be replaced are the workers themselves. Well... that depends. I'm not sure there will be a business case within th next 50 years for robots doing simple tasks in a warehouse over humans doing it. It's not decided yet if that is going to happen. However - the business case of doing simple middle management tasks has been decided in favour of computers. They are much better in making the most of employee time. 

I'll close ba admitting that the speed and the consequences of automation in our society are discussed by people with more insight and time for this than me, so I think I'm not qualified to say whether this development is negative or positive*. It is negative in Manna, but Manna is just a story. 


* However, Amazon is a monopolist, so there might be a different reason not to use them that much.

# lastedited 27 Mar 2014
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