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The Price of Automation (and the Promise of Technology)

October 8, 2011

The promise of technology is that we can have better lives with less effort and at less of a cost.  Automation has a role to play in fulfilling this promise, but it can be misapplied.  Consider the situation of a typical cashier.  It used to be that the cashier was a necessary part of the process of checking out, but not any more.  Yet in many cases the cashier is still there, even when most of the technology necessary to replace hir is already in place, simply making the transaction more distant and dehumanizing.  You put your things on the counter; the cashier scans them, which you could easily do; the cashier takes your cash and makes change, which a machine could do, or, more likely, you swipe your charge card on a machine while the cashier stands idly by, an obsolete part of the process.

The problem: alienation of the workforce.  The solution: reject the promise of technology, or liberate the work force?

(Hint: the promise of technology benefits all of us, and the work force is all of us.)

The followup.

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