November 03, 2014
Automation Cuts Human Contact In Commercial Transactions

The next step on the road to greater automation to eliminate contact with clerks, cashiers, and sales agents: Keyless check-in to hotel rooms using a smart phone app.

Smart phones are going to become like magic wands. Rental car doors will open when you press a button on your smart phone. Hotel doors will too. You'll order food with a smart phone app and it'll be ready when you reach a restaurant. The day will come when the table will be laid out with food before you get there and you'll let your phone guide you to the right table. Or you'll order while en route to a restaurant and when you get there pick up your order in a bag and walk out.

Maybe coffee houses will stay human staffed because that is what the buyer wants? How often are you just in a hurry and want total automation with the coffee ready when you walk in the door? How often would you rather wait in line and tell a human your order?

The growth of online buying cuts out contact with sales reps and cashiers too. Most deliveries do not require interaction with delivery people. The stuff just gets left at your door in a locked box.

It will take longer to eliminate contact with taxi drivers. Say 2025 or 2030. My guess is flight attendants will last longer than pilots.

What comes next? What human roles would you like to see automated? What lines do you wait in that you'd like to see disappear? What sorts of dealings with human service providers do you find most frustrating? Or are your biggest desires for automation in the realm of robotics at home?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 November 03 07:03 PM 

jp straley said at November 4, 2014 5:35 AM:

It's not always smart to automate service jobs. It's not a good idea to put a million truck drivers on the side of the road. They become tax eaters instead of tax payers. Wal Mart looses it's mainline customers. That might become a familiar pattern, and it will lead to very sharp class divisions.

Much automation will have a international impact. Take sewing. Let's automate sewing and bring it back to the US. Yay! Costs are well controlled, good quality, less waste, short supply chain, and the possibility for easy & quick made-to-measure. But there will be millions of workers in, say, Indonesia, that will wonder where their job went. And so will their governments.

Bernardz said at November 5, 2014 3:24 AM:

A study done by a large bank showed that although even though the tellers were free, people were queuing up to use the automatic machines.

bob sykes said at November 5, 2014 4:28 AM:

How might this affect honesty in transactions? It is pretty well established that it takes repeated trades between individuals to establish and maintain honesty in their economic relations. Would these impersonal transactions lead to more fraud?

Abelard Lindsey said at November 5, 2014 8:16 AM:

Restaurants and coffee shops will undergo a bifurcation. Neighborhood and hipster coffee shops will continue to have human employees. Customers are willing to pay the premium for human employees. Coffee shops in impersonal places such as airports will be fully automated. Same for restaurants.

I think automated driving will take longer in coming than most people expect. It easier to automate driving on a freeway than it is for surface streets. Freeway driving will be fully automated. Human drivers will take over when the car or truck leaves the freeway and goes onto surface streets. This, of course, means taxi drivers and truck drivers will not go away any time soon. I agree if full automation of driving in possible and taxi drivers go away, that taxi services will become much cheaper (and many people will ditch car ownership).

destructure said at November 5, 2014 4:59 PM:

Here's an interesting thought -- I don't see how they could ever automate motorcycles or scooters. Part of riding one is leaning your body along with the turns. But automated cars will make riding motorcycles much, much safer. Because they'll likely be fitted with GPS sensors that will have cars keep their distance.

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2014 9:53 PM:


Automation will especially bring back manufacturing for heavier and bulkier stuff. Take furniture for example. Shipping is a major cost. Robotic factories will enable regional manufacture. So open up a robotic furniture factory in New England and another in the US south east and another in the Mid West and so on. Cut shipping costs as compared to bringing the stuff in from China.

I think we might end up with regional mini River Rouge plants where the raw materials go in and finished products come out. For some products this might even be done by town. For example, cook cakes and process meat in each town and get it fresh from robots.


Yes to that. My suspicion is that human staffed restaurants will become the exception. Especially for food prep robotics will offer a great advantage: extreme customization of meal requests. They'll be able to cook a much wider range of cuisines.

bob sykes,

Well, we tell each other which businesses are dishonest. We rate them.


Robotic cars will make the road safer for motorcycle riders. Hey, that is a great observation. Absolutely correct. Good news too.

Ronald Brak said at November 7, 2014 5:39 AM:

I was just reading an article about how much a guy hates waiting for his computer games to be ready to start. Clearly the killer app for AI is to cut boring crud out of game playing.

Nick G said at November 7, 2014 12:53 PM:


Balancing has been solved - look at Segways.

Nick G said at November 7, 2014 1:01 PM:


The key question is: is there anything that you still need? Or, do you have everything you need, and you'd be happy to work fewer hours and have less income?

I see lots of unfulfilled needs: medical research, childcare, senior care, education, entertainment, building infrastructure (wind & solar), etc. That's where the economy can grow.

Now, retraining the unemployed is a different question. But, I think there's lots of medium skilled work left to do.

Engineer-Poet said at November 7, 2014 2:26 PM:

Balancing has been solved much more comprehensively than Segway technology.

Kenneth t.kendrick said at November 7, 2014 4:50 PM:

Anything that cuts human contact is fine with me.

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