In the digital era where society and business have transitioned from analog to digital 0s and 1s has continued at a rapid pace. Many individuals and some future thinkers thought that computers and cell phones were potentially near the edge of technological advancement in general. However, it is ever more complex algorithms and hardware with sensors that have taken the lead, and what is now disrupting the modern workplace and costing human jobs.
Let’s take a look at this list of technological disruption:
- Drones at Walmart, Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and DHL: Yes, with online ordering, companies also want to cut costs because people are no longer inside the store to purchase impulse items. There will likely be a reduction of those people in the workforce and more flying robots soon; it seems like a sci-fi movie that is actually happening.
- Intelligent Warehouse Robots: The intelligent robots don’t stop at Walmart, Amazon, and hospitals. In warehouses where we usually think of burly folks lifting heavy packages from one pallet rack to the other and managing forklifts. Those people are being replaced by smart warehouse robots that can take inventory from one area to another quite fast. Amazon recently purchased a warehouse robotics company called Kiva Systems. They paid $775 million dollars for the company and are already deploying these types of systems now.
- Legal Research: There is a fascinating YouTube video floating around with millions of page views called “Humans Need Not Apply”. In that particular video they mention what intelligent algorithms are doing to the legal profession. For lawyers, the real legal advantage separating bad from good comes from going through hundreds or thousands of cases looking to show a precedent or find an angle to support your side. That takes one or more skilled attorneys many hours or even months of time in some cases. So there are now a few legal software “robots” that can analyze thousands of cases looking for similarities and patterns in legal precedent. Even the best attorneys couldn’t go through that many cases and their paralegals and even attorneys themselves are getting replaces.
- 3-D Printing: This may be one of the most disruptive on the list. It is still very early on in this industry, almost like the internet was in 1995. The most noticeable disruptions are happening in figurines, gadgets and even mechanical parts. One of the most popular marketplaces for intelligent 3d printing instructions that your printer can understand is on ShapeWays. You can connect and get smart instructions to print iPhone cases, coffee cups, and jewelry. Yes, they have metallic cartridges just like a regular printer uses ink cartridges.
- Self-Driving Cars: Some science fiction fans may remember the movie Total Recall from 1990 featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It featured many technologies that seemed, well, so far in the future that we thought we’d never experience them personally. Now the car manufacturer Tesla has started shipping models that will self-park and also drive on the freeways. This is happening right now. Eventually, as things improve there will likely be completely autonomous cars. This will disrupt the cab/ride-sharing industry and transportation to a large degree.
- Facial Recognition Software for Shopping: This is one of the creepier tech trends on this list. When you enter a retail store to try on clothing, buy hardware from home depot or any other myriad of outlets, you are often greeted by a salesperson. They may offer to assist you and/or you can ask them for help on finding items, deals etc. Now in a growing number of stores, they have deployed cameras with facial recognition technology to know exactly who you are as well as your buying preferences. And to make it even creepier, some of the more sophisticated algorithms can cross reference an individual with their social media profile and other seemingly personal information. And as they gather more data, they get smarter.
- Facial Recognition Software for Security: The same style of software is not only being deployed for retail purposes but for security reasons as well. Of course, there is always the privacy issue that comes up. When does technology overstep its bounds into our personal sovereignty? I imagine this will be a debated topic for some time especially in regards to this one on the list.
- Digital Assistants and Chat Bots: Ah customer service which is the foundation of a good company. Picking up the phone for decades was a staple of getting help and/or placing an order for a product or service. Then the advent of shopping carts and the ubiquitous live help pop-ups, that connect to a person chatting in real-time were deployed all over the internet. Now, even the chat windows themselves are being automated by smart digital assistant bots. They run off of a repository of millions of statements and questions and have a method to get smarter as they gather more data. So basically a whole segment of the world economy, customer service, is starting to get replaced by robots. Some of the companies pioneering this are Twyla from Germany and Aivo in Argentina.
- Article Writing – Particularly Sports Columnists: Many of the articles that you are reading right now, especially in regards to sports are being partially or entirely written by robots. Just like some of the other databases with algorithms on this list, they get larger and larger repositories of text and statistics to build upon. In a weird way, this is probably one of the comparatively easier technologies to build on this 30 list. So here is how a simplified version, in theory, would work. Take all the players on each team, their statistics and you could associate phrases with certain stats i.e. if 10 or more assists were achieved by Kawhi Leonard the machine could spit out “Kawhi Leonard wowed the crowd with 12 assists”. Would you know the difference and would the crowd not be wowed if he did perform that way? Think about it. So, sports columnist and more journalists are being replaced by robots.
- Cleaning Robots: This may be the simplest one on the list or the most well known if nothing else. However, the Roomba vacuum that uses sensor technology to know the boundaries of your floor can save hours every month in time. In 2015 they made a breakthrough in that it has an app and smart map so it can remember your room.
- Robotic Farms: In 1790, 90% of Americans lived in rural areas and produced at least some of their own food. Since the industrialization of farming, only 2% of the population are farmers. And just like any business system, there are many employees in the chain of operation. Now, farming robots and soil sensors are displacing heavy equipment operators and field workers who make up that 2%.
- Food Delivery: Currently when you hear the term food delivery you may think of someone in an economical car who may work for Kroger, Winn-Dixie, Meijer, or Amazon and bring you your groceries. Or a pizza delivery person with the sign on top of their car. Now companies like JustEat are experimenting with robot deliveries in the United Kingdom.
- Checkout Kiosks at Grocery Stores: Many grocery stores across the country now have an option for kiosk self-checkout options. And this is happening at Target too which has groceries as well as retail items. So now there may be one manager of the 4-8 self-checkout machines where before that would be 4-8 people doing the job themselves.
- Redbox and Netflix: Up until the last few years, renting a movie consisted of going to your local Blockbuster. Or in many cases smaller video stores that might have some obscure titles available. With the advent of Redbox, they made an automated movie rental store and you have either seen them or rented a DVD and returned one outside of many a store. And of course, Netflix has digitized the entire process, and automated recommendations according to your history.
Technology is supposed to be a tool used for convenience and societal benefit. Let’s remember not to lose our humanity.