Becoming More Human Through Mass Automation

Earlier this week. Amazon announced their latest innovation, Go. Think of Go as a futuristic grocery store. Using sensors, artificial intelligence and computer vision, Amazon is reinventing the shopping experience that we’ve all grown accustomed to for the last seventy years. That’s right. No more check out lines, registers or cashiers. If you want to buy an item, just grab it from the shelf, and then Amazon will automatically add the item to your virtual shopping cart. When you walk out of the store, Amazon will magically charge you for that item. Amazing, right? Yup. It’s also potentially scary when you think of the implications that this, and other forms automation, could have on our society.

Many industries are facing unprecedented changes largely driven by increasing wages and advancements robotics / artificial intelligence. This trend isn’t just limited to retail in the Amazon example but also transportation, food service, manufacturing, and administrative to throw out some examples. The number of jobs on the line is potentially massive. There are 3.4M cashiers nationwide according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There are 3.5M professional truck drivers in the U.S. according to the American Trucking Association. There are 4.7M food service workers in the U.S. (BLS). These are just a few examples. I don’t even need dig up all the numbers to conclude tens of millions of American jobs are at risk due to rising labor costs and automation.

All that said, I’m not here to paint a doomsday picture like many before me have. Hundreds if not thousands of articles have been written about our robot overloads and how we’ll eventually become slaves to them. I’m also not here to look at what we stand to lose. Instead, I’m here to look at what we all stand to gain in a world of mass automation. I believe if managed properly this massive shift could unlock enormous long term opportunities for our society and increase our overall quality of life.

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Breather - Peace & Quiet on Demand

On Friday, all of my meetings were downtown but I had a two hour open window in the late morning.  Instead of schlepping to RRE’s office in Midtown East or sitting in a noisy Starbucks with spotty wifi, I decided to give Breather a try.  Breather is a newly launched mobile app that provides on-demand rooms in large urban areas. It is the brain child of Julien Smith a Montreal-based writer and entrepreneur.  The service currently operates in Montreal and NYC, costs $25 / per hour and is available seven days a week from 6am to 10pm. 

The main goal of the app is to provide a quiet place to hold a meeting, work in private or just take a break for an hour or two. While the service is perceived as “odd,” novel and unproven, I can imagine a growing market for this type of flexible space. Demand will likely come from small companies with virtual organizations, freelancers, visiting executives and employees and even tourists. The timing for something like Breather to emerge couldn’t be any better since asset sharing, co-working and freelancing have become important pieces of the innovation economy for nearly a decade. 

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