date this mind-set is bad, but that when
one has as much power over the rest of
the world as the tech sector does over
folks who might not share that worldview,
there is the risk of a strange imbalance.
The tech world is predominantly male—
very much so. Testosterone combined
with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible for
the sake of “simplicity and e;ciency”—do
the math, and there’s the future.
Here are some examples of fairly ubiquitous consumer technologies that allow for
less human interaction.
Online ordering and home delivery:
Online ordering is hugely convenient.
Amazon, FreshDirect, Instacart, etc. have
not just cut out interactions at bookstores
and checkout lines; they have eliminated
all human interaction from these transactions, barring the (often paid) online
Digital music: Downloads and streaming—there is no physical store, of course,
so there are no snobby, know-it-all clerks
to deal with. Whew, you might say. Some
services o;er algorithmic recommendations, so you don’t even have to discuss
music with your friends to know what
they like. The service knows what they
like, and you can know, too, without actually talking to them. Is the function of
music as a kind of social glue and lubricant also being eliminated?
Ride-hailing apps: There is minimal
interaction—one doesn’t have to tell the
driver the address or the preferred route,
or interact at all if one doesn’t want to.
Driverless cars: In one sense, if you’re out
with your friends, not having one of you
drive means more time to chat. Or drink.
Very nice. But driverless tech is also very
much aimed at eliminating taxi drivers,
truck drivers, delivery drivers, and many
others. There are huge advantages to
eliminating humans here—theoretically,
machines should drive more safely than
humans, so there might be fewer accidents
and fatalities. The disadvantages include
massive job loss. But that’s another sub-
ject. What I’m seeing here is the consistent
“eliminating the human” pattern.
Automated checkout: Eatsa is a new version of the Automat, a once-popular “
restaurant” with no visible staff. My local
CVS has been training staff to help us
learn to use the checkout machines that
will replace them. At the same time, they
are training their customers to do the
work of the cashiers.
Amazon has been testing stores—even
grocery stores!—with automated shopping. They’re called Amazon Go. The
idea is that sensors will know what you’ve
picked up. You can simply walk out with
purchases that will be charged to your
account, without any human contact.
AI: AI is often (though not always) better
at decision-making than humans. In some
areas, we might expect this. For example,
AI will suggest the fastest route on a map,
accounting for tra;c and distance, while
we as humans would be prone to taking
our tried-and-true route. But some less-expected areas where AI is better than
humans are also opening up. It is getting
better at spotting melanomas than many
doctors, for example. Much routine legal
work will soon be done by computer programs, and financial assessments are now
being done by machines.
Robot workforce: Factories increasingly
have fewer and fewer human workers,
which means no personalities to deal with,
no agitating for overtime, and no illnesses.
Using robots avoids an employer’s need
to think about worker’s comp, health
care, Social Security, Medicare taxes, and
Personal assistants: With improved
speech recognition, one can increasingly
talk to a machine like Google Home
or Amazon Echo rather than a person.
Amusing stories abound as the bugs get
worked out. A child says, “Alexa, I want a
dollhouse” … and lo and behold, the parents find one in their cart.
Big data: Improvements and innovations
in crunching massive amounts of data
mean that patterns can be recognized in
our behavior where they weren’t seen previously. Data seems objective, so we tend
to trust it, and we may very well come
to trust the gleanings from data crunching more than we do ourselves and our
human colleagues and friends.
Video games (and virtual reality): Yes,
some online games are interactive. But
most are played in a room by one person
jacked into the game. The interaction is
Automated high-speed stock buying
and selling: A machine crunching huge
amounts of data can spot trends and patterns quickly and act on them faster than
a person can.
MOOCS: Online education with no direct
“Social” media: This is social interaction
that isn’t really social. While Facebook
and others frequently claim to o;er connection, and do o;er the appearance of it,
the fact is a lot of social media is a
simulation of real connection.
What are the e;ects of less interaction?
Minimizing interaction has some knock-on
e;ects—some of them good, some not. The
externalities of e;ciency, one might say.