Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Talking to Machines

 Currently reading:  7 Days by Deon Meyer.  Murder mystery set in South Africa.  I am a big fan of Meyer.
Must read:  The Internet is not the Answer by Andrew Keen

I've just come back from the shops.  Only two cashiers were on duty and the remaining check-outs were self-service.  A supermarket employee approached me:  "come with me", she said.  I knew this trick having fallen for it once already.  'No thanks,' I said, 'I only deal with cashiers.'  She muttered something about "only trying to be helpful" and went away no doubt setting me down as a difficult behind-the-times customer.
Well, I'm not, as it happens.  I use technology where I consider it useful to me.   It's just that I am sick of companies taking our money and making us do all the work while their shareholders pocket the profits.

It started with the banks.  They take our money and then treat us like it's their property and we are only allowed to do things their way.  Yes, I do bank online.  My bank moved away two years ago so I hardly ever go there for anything as the shops will let me use my debit card to take out up to €100 in cash.  Yes, it is convenient except when I need advice or there's a problem about something.  Then I have to call the service number and cope with the robotic voice telling me what numbers to press.  If I had a choice, I would only use a bank which provides its customers with a personal service.  One that stayed open late at least once a week to accommodate the work force.
The idea of flitting through the supermarket and then checking everything out yourself apparently appeals to many people.  It fits in with the "no human contact" lifestyle we are slowly adopting.  When I'm out walking I see so many people with their earphones plugged in as they walk/jog along the seafront.  The thunder of the surf onto the beach, the calls of the birds and even the people they encounter are all lost on them.  They live in their own little world. 
Humans are gregarious by nature.  We need other people.  My problem is that you can go through the whole day and not speak to a living soul.  You can get your cash out of the wall, do your shopping and pay at the self-service check-out and go home again without exchanging a single word with another human being. Is this what we want?

I read a review of Andrew Keen's book The Internet is not the Answer in The Sunday Times and it is on my "must read" list.  His theory is that millions of jobs will be lost in the progress of automation and I am inclined to agree with him.  Of course you will still have the technicians and software developers but even they will dwindle in number as they are replaced by robots.  Even if only half his predictions come through, it's a scary thought.  Who knows, in the not too distant future even my blog will be written by a robot who thinks it knows what I want to say or my readers want to hear.


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