Ugh. I hate lines (but…what to do without them?)

Day 22: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

If my recollection of English is correct, your use of ‘literal’ is mostly a  taunt, valiantly attempting to have me tirade about unusual incorrect usage and usages. I won’t take the bait – just know I’m watching you closely. That said, I’m watching you closely mostly because you got a haircut from a stylist not named Monique, not because of your taunts. Italy is really changing you…

A couple weeks ago I touched a bit on automation, attempting to detail some thoughts on the tech industry’s moral obligation to bring others along with them. Rather than simply displace workers from jobs, the industry as a whole should help think carefully about the society being created when these jobs are gone and how people can not only make a living but also live meaningful lives contributing to societal flourishing.

Amazon announced the soon to be public launch of their Amazon Go store concept. Watch the video below – it’s worth the couple of minutes.

Now to be clear, this is one store that isn’t yet open to the public. But the implications are glaring. There are 3.5 million people working in cashier jobs in the US alone. I’m not sure how it’s counted, but you also have people managing those cashiers and in the case of grocery stores those bagging the purchases. That’s a lot of people to displace.

And to be sure the technology will have some kinks to work out and some frustrations of it’s own. There will need to be a clear way to get assistance if something isn’t coming “off the cart” if you put it back (consumer frustration) or ensure everything is being charged (retailer frustration). But in the long run, if it really is using self-enforcing and learning tech as described, the thousands of data points gleaned every day add up and the experience improves, driving more people to use the service. Moreover, if their massive scale and logistical distribution advantages weren’t enough, the real advantage here comes when looking at costs – investing in the (essentially) fixed costs of running the tech allows Amazon to out-compete others who have to use labor. And as hinted at above, it’s not just grocery that gets impacted – there’s no reason to believe similar technology couldn’t be put into clothing retail, gas stations, convenience stores, etc.

I write this thoroughly torn about how to feel. From a tech innovation perspective, I’m all for it. People unproductively standing in lines is a real problem to be solved – time that could be spent building relationships over tea or writing comics about math (this is the kind of friendship we have, Tim!) or observing the beauty in nature. But there are other real-world implications, meaning people may not have jobs to work to pay their way through school or to support their families or to simply make a few extra bucks so they can go hang out with their friends on the weekends.

And I don’t have any answers. I don’t even have thoughts in the right direction, yet. But being attentive to what is happening and having it sit on the mind, discussing it with friends – that I can do. Let me know when you’ve figured it out, Tim…

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I really liked your pigeons rummaging.

p.p.s. If the Amazon Go thing comes to fruition, I have serious angst about having to travel back through stores to put groceries back rather than simply placing my unwanted rice bag on top of the canned soup section. And before you say “aww you’re that guy! Put it back yourself” I’ll pe-empt with a “Hey I’m giving someone a job!”…

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Fake news, Earl Grey Tea, Automation and Changing Greatness

Day 10: Friday

Morning Evening, Tim!

End of week 2. What a delight!

I wanted to give a quick update on my bit of fake news from Wednesday. In short, I just wanted to point out that there are quite a few takes on the issue and its resolution; that said, it’s important to remember the issue isn’t quite as cut and dry, and when you get into the implications of some of the suggestions of resolving it you soon realize there are many nuances to the argument, balancing incentives among them.

I also wanted to let you know I am at our family’s house writing this, sitting by the fireplace. Some cool, blistery air outside makes it nice to be here; moreover, I checked the cabinet to see your leftover stash. You better get back here soon, lest you have no more of this! Importantly, though, we’ll have to refresh with some new, fresh loose leaf.IMG_0847.JPG

You had mentioned perhaps, but likely not admitting to it, maybe, if perchance had it’s way, maybe, perhaps feeling under the weather:

My eyes will be all glossy, and my voice will sound like a frog who spends most of his income of Camels.

Perhaps you should drink more tea to make if feel better. Moreover, along the lines of voices, if you’d prefer not to be followed by J Biebs perhaps try a different radio station. On my ride through the beautiful mountains, this came on; perhaps a bit froggy, but wow is that impressive (Spoiler alert, he gets down.)

Calabria looks beautiful. It would be fun to visit, but I’m not convinced it would be somewhere I’d have much space to think. I’d much prefer your Earl Grey, posted up in a library in Oxford (I know I can’t drink tea in that library, my dear Tim. This is simply a dream), reading a bit of philosophy (or a hometown library wouldn’t be bad either!)

You may be wondering when I’m going to leverage that segue I touched on back on Wednesday. With respect to tech and automation, I’ve been thinking about responsibility within the tech industry to ensure wealth is distributed a bit more than it has been. Being predicated on scale, companies work themselves into virtuous cycles – they get users, and because they have more users suppliers line up, bringing a better experience…and then more users, etc. The created wealth then gets unevenly distributed, and those that bear the brunt of the financial ramifications are often left feeling powerless (and many times are powerless). The incentives are set up this way – companies are able to do this, and in order to succeed should operate in a way that benefits their user base and employees of the company.

Ben Thompson (linked earlier) has recently called into question actions which are

legally acceptable, though morally dubious

I like the wording – I feel it brings out a rich discussion on right and wrong, as often people focus on the law to determine what they can/should do.  It’s what they can get away with. And without touching too much on the election, no one who feels powerless, ignored, or abandoned likes the feeling. That said, in a new era predicated on the internet, globalization, and a very different kind of scale, bringing back the “greatness” of eras past will not occur by reverting to the way things were – incentives don’t point in that direction, and so new rules need to be put in place predicated on the new era; on microchips, on global connectedness, on 0 distribution costs, on AI and automation…on a new set of technology.

Until Monday,

Zak