Friday, 1 January 2016

Superseded by machinery


He was one of that large class of purely mechanical and perfectly mediocre persons connected with the practice of the law who will probably, in a more advanced state of science, be superseded by machinery.
Wilkie Collins – Man and Wife (1870)

The other day I received an email from our electricity and gas supplier asking me to submit a new meter reading. Of course the email was composed and sent by a computer. I duly read the meters, entered my readings online and the machine calculated our latest statement. Mine was probably the only human role and a subservient one at that. One day smart meters will get rid of my job too.

Early in the New Year I’ll receive another email from another machine reminding me that our credit card payment is due. I’ll pay our credit card bill via the online machine and another machine which is our bank. Nobody else involved here either.

Later I’ll probably visit Tesco and pay for some groceries using that same credit card. When I reach the checkout a Tesco machine will validate my credit card and issue a receipt allowing me to take the goods. If I buy a bottle of wine a machine will tell the Tesco checkout operator to confirm that I’m old enough. One day it will already know.

At some point I may take the car to the unmanned fuel station at Asda to buy some diesel from yet another machine. Some machines have permanent human minders, but that may change. Supermarkets alone give us some pretty strong clues about our future – machine minders.

Picture a solicitor behind a desk a few years into the future. On the desk is a computer and this is where the solicitor’s professional expertise really is. The solicitor consults the machine but it is the machine which really sorts out the legal work. The solicitor is merely its trained minder, its human face.

How about teaching, job interviews, accountancy, driving a car, lorry, taxi, bus or train? How about delivery drivers, journalism, supervision and even management? How about politics? In many ways David Cameron is a machine minder. He looks after that little cog in the global machine, the cog we used to call the United Kingdom.


Demetrius said...

Much legal work used to be document churning and arranging documents, this is now all done by software. Also, there is plenty of web information for people looking for advice or information on relatively routine matters. So large numbers of jobs are already gone. The smart meters are already here and being installed. And a few other things. We retired people will soon have nothing to do when we used to spend many happy hours phoning, going to see, bothering people will all our trivia. But you will still have to cut your own toenails.

James Higham said...

Yes, what could possibly go wrong with machines minding things?

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - we can still bother people via email.

James - yes, when things go wrong we need people and someone able to fix the problem can be hard to find.