Ben Holliday

The automation reading list

Featuring Amazon Go, Apple self checkout, a Daily Mail headline, and some good books

This year I’ve been thinking a lot about automation in design. What automation driven by new technology means to products and services and the bigger question of the future of work.

Yesterday Amazon announced they were in the process of making a checkout free shopping experience a reality. They’re calling it Amazon Go.

In reality, this has been coming for a while. Apple stores don’t have a fixed checkout. This felt very strange when I first experienced it, but like every new experience, we learn to adapt as things change.

Apple have also already launched their own app-based self checkout for purchases without a shop assistant. Branded legal shoplifting by some it’s a strange experience when you’re used to queuing to pay for items, especially in Great Britain where we’re renowned for queuing.

Innovation here not only means that there’s no more need for queuing. But, more significantly, there’s less of a requirement for shop assistants. Like many areas of our lives technology has the potential to automate or replace something that is done by a human. This changes how we live, and more fundamentally how we work, or the type of work that we do.

What really nudged me on this was this Daily Mail headline. It seems that the robots are now taking our jobs, which might be more true than some previous headlines. This is only the start of an increased public consciousness of the changes that are coming.

Automaton is a very real problem and a real risk to the type of jobs that exist in today’s society. It’s a problem we need to be talking about and acknowledging more.

In my experience, the question of automation needs to become a greater part of the conversation when we talk about digital.

The difficult question of what happens when services become more automated determines how far we’re moving towards less reliance on human intervention, physical processes, paperwork, manual operating systems, or the need for someone to answer the phone.

It’s not just retail but all of the service industry, including the public sector, that needs to think hard about what automation means to them.

I don’t have the answers, but I’ve been started reading more about the subject. Once you dig into this you find that this isn’t a new problem. We have a complex history of technology changing the meaning of work. From the factories of the industrial age, right through to our new self-checkout processes.

This is more than just a question of technology leading us towards convenience. As this opinion piece about Amazon Go in the Guardian makes clear, “such connections [as the check-out], fleeting as they are, can be life-saving for the chronically lonely and good for others too.” In fact, as I’m writing this, Channel 4 news is running a report on the increasing isolation and loneliness in our society.

What is clear is that we need to design a future where no one is left behind. A new vision for the future of work. What it means to live in an automated world but still maintain the social connections that make life work on so many other emotional levels.

As a starting point this is my reading list so far.

I’ve tried to read more widely than just technology commentary. Moving towards what radical policy might look like alongside social and digital inclusion. Also, thinking about how we preserve what makes the social interactions we have important.

The further reading list

  1. An optimists guide to the future – Mark Stevenson
  2. Inventing the future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work Book – Alex Williams and Nick Snick
  3. Raising the floor – Andy Stern with Lee Kravitz
  4. Post Capitalism: A guide to Our Future – Paul Mason
  5. The Village Effect: The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters – Susan Pinker
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