Cashing Out

There’s little question in my mind that advances in artificial intelligence and robotics will significantly displace humans in the workplace.

We’re not talking about every job, but most of today’s jobs (as currently configured) will eventually be performed by AI and robots or in partnership with AI and robots.

In the beginning, the jobs displaced by technology will be those that are dull, dangerous or dirty; eventually, it will include jobs like surgeons, anesthesiologists or diagnosticians.

What jobs will we lose first?

Three that come to mind: Truck drivers, retail, and supermarket workers and cashiers.

In this blog, I’ll write about the future of cashiers...

When I’m shopping at Whole Foods or CVS, my goal is to get in and out of the store as soon as possible: find what I need, pay for it and leave.

As such, I imagine a near-term future in which an AI agent will guide me rapidly to the exact aisle and shelf to help me find the product. Then, as I leave the store, the system will charge me automatically – no need to stop, stand in line and pull out my wallet.

Taking it one step further, imagine a future where I never go to the store in the first place. My refrigerator can sense that I’m low on milk or eggs, order it all from the store, and have those products delivered by autonomous vehicle or drone. In this near-term scenario, all I do is take the products off my front doorstep and stock them in my refrigerator.

High-level autonomy is already underway...

Over the last few months, up in Seattle, Amazon has established a store called Amazon Go, which is a cashierless retail store for Amazon employees only. The reason it’s only for Amazon employees is that they’re doing tests to see how it works.

Currently, Amazon employees access an app, enter the store, and then simply take what they want off the shelf. That’s it. A system of cameras and sensors can observe what you’re taking and how many, and Amazon charges the correct amount to your account. All you do is walk out -- no checkout and no cashiers. The tech isn’t perfect yet, which is why Amazon is doing this as a test, but it will get better and it will ultimately become how stores transact purchases.

Will some retail stores only employ humans? Skip the automation? It’s possible, but I doubt it.

Imagine comparing two stores: one that embraces the technology and another that does not.

The store that’s fully autonomous enables you to walk in, get your products, and leave twice as fast -- and, by the way, those products are cheaper because the business doesn’t have overhead due to employees.

Jason Costanza/Flickr

Early Passions

How will the autonomous store compare to a retail competitor that offers slower and more expensive services?

You got it -- the store that employs humans and has a slower, more expensive customer experience will go out of business, and those jobs will ultimately disappear.

For those who are cashiers... when will this happen?

I would imagine it’s probably not in the next couple years, but likely within five years, and definitely within the next decade.

Knowing that, how do you prepare yourself?

Here’s my question: what did you want to do when you were younger? Did you always want to be a cashier, or did you want to be a nurse, teacher or to travel the world?

Ultimately, going back to your early passions and taking on the education needed to achieve your earlier goal(s) is what’s needed. Take caution, though, as those jobs may also get displaced by AI and robots.

We’re heading into a period where technological employment will cause us to struggle -- with how we find meaning in our lives, with how we earn our living.

Incredibly important experiments are going on today with Universal Basic Income (UBI), a methodology in which everyone is paid a salary, whether they work or not.

UBI will help ensure we have food on the table, insurance, medical care, and so on, but it’s not going to solve the issue of giving meaning to our life.

This is something we need to think about and solve -- not in 20 years or 10 years, but in the next five years.

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