back to article Rise Of The Machines: What will become of box-watchers, delivery drivers?

In the world of storage tech, progress is a holy grail, never questioned, never doubted. Anything that adds data access capacity, data access speed and data access security is a good thing. Who can doubt it? The world has a seemingly insatiable appetite for storing and accessing data and as we feed the ravening beast, so our …

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Terminator

Just the tip of the iceberg

Consider retail - there are already shelf-stacking robots in use in some warehouses, and we've all used self-checkout at the supermarket. With current robotic tech you could reduce the staff in a supermarket by 90%, leaving just a few people for troubleshooting and intervening when the machine gets into trouble.

Fast food? Everything from cooking to packing to delivery to payment can be automated, again needing just some people to troubleshoot.

When the cost of one of these service robots drops below the annual wage of a basic worker, that's when we need to worry. Also, the robots can work 24/7 all year with no holiday or sick leave. We need to think about this now rather than later.

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Meh

But How

But how will a driverless delivery truck knock on your door to tell you the delivery has arrived?

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Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

Note also that low interest rates, typically used to stimulate an economy, make the purchase cost of automation systems more affordable, increasing the no of roles they can be bought to fulfil.

A nasty conundrum.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

Interestingly the economy by that point could almost be completely self perpetuating, meaning you could levy high taxes on the operating corporations and then feed that directly into the "welfare" (which would no longer be called welfare, as most people would be on it), people would be expected of course to do social deeds, inspired to be creative and inventive. There'd still be a number of people with jobs, novelty roles could take off for that little human touch(micro brewers, confectionery, gardening services, clothing, etc, etc) , the technical and engineering fields would boom, a new era of philosophy and science could be heralded.

You also need to be aware that the population is dropping and give it a few generations and we wont have anyone to do low level jobs. The bill for keeping old people alive will be massive and the number of young people shall be small.

What would probably happen though? Everyone would probably sit around, get fat while being serviced by their sexroid and butlerbot and watch x-that-factors-got-something or another. At least if we don't re-position our whole culture when it comes to self motivation.

So yeah, it's defiantly something we need to start thinking about and planning for now.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

First driverless cars

Then technology designing technology

Then machines with self awareness

Then Skynet

Then Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo

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Happy

Re: But How

It won't knock. Or indeed arrive- you will get an email saying "You were out..."

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@hplasm

Beat me to it :)

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Terminator

Re: But How

No need, the truck transmits its company's cryptographic signature to your (physical) drop box which opens to receive the package. When you get home, unlock the box (hoping it's secure enough to defeat the local delinquents and ex-drivers who make a living following the Googazon trucks).

Flip a coin to decide whether the boxes or the trucks ends up getting the robot arms to transfer the package.

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Re: But How

SMS message just before delivery.... Be there or miss it. Then go in your driverless car to pick it up from the depot.

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Terminator

Re: Self-perpetuating economy

That's a future dystopia if I ever saw one. Robots produce and take care of all the food, accommodation, power, water, transport, energy, cleaning and sanitation, AND of maintaining and controlling themselves. People would be taken care of but would effectively be living in a giant prison since the machines of course also take care of security and policing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But How

@larsg - You have experienced this ? Truly ? Pray tell where were you when this divine event occured. Immust go there and pray to be blessed with similar grace.

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Devil

Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

"technology designing technology"

don't need machines with self-awareness to screw humanity up, the "technology designing technology" stage will already screw humanity. What will happen when some machines (inevitably) begin to break down, and the machines aren't yet smart enough to debug the issues while humans simply have no understanding of the design processes that went into the machine? What happens when there are no longer any jobs for engineers for a generation and the skills are lost? The whole shebang starts breaking down and we're back to subsistence farming.

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Devil

Re: But How

"SMS message just before delivery.... Be there or miss it. Then go in your driverless car to pick it up from the depot."

in theory, yes. in practice:

"SMS message 2 nanoseconds before delivery (no doubt in the exact instant that you went to the john).... You were there but still missed it. Then go in your driverless car to pick it up from the depot."

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Re: But How

It won't, that bit can't be automated (at our current technological level), but the backhaul, from warehouse to warehouse all over the country can, there are warehouse staff (or automated systems) at either end to load and unload and the lorry goes from A to B, not A to Z via every delivery address on the way.

Even though automation causes short term pain, I can't see how it's anything other than a positive thing in the long run.

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FAIL

Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

I doubt it...

The driver is more than a driver, he is security, he is customer facing, he is the representative of the industry...

and really, if you KNOW there is no one in a van full of goodies, it will be a perfect target for criminals.. more so than lorries already are...

I know if I was criminally minded, I would rather steal from an un-manned vehicle than a manned one...

It would be easy to disrupt the tech externally so it has to stop to be safe... .then break it open, take the goodies & leave.....

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Terminator

Re: But How

It's OK, we can have the package receiving robot wait outside to take delivery :)

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Unhappy

Re: But How

In my experience, the driver of the delivery truck doesn't bother to knock on the door to tell you the delivery has arrived either. He just shoves a badly scrawled note through your letter box telling you to collect your parcel from their distribution hub in Sink-Estate-on-the-Dole between the hours of inconvenience and may as well take a day off work.

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Re: But How

Or just send your driverless car to the depot while your at work (or at home unemployed). The truck only needs to take it to the depot. It could almost be rails instead of using the over-use road system. Or maybe even use a system of inter-connected waterways... oh wait.

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Unhappy

Re: But How

If they model the robot behaviour on HDN drivers in the UK, all they need to do is dump the parcel on your doorstep and bugger off.

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Megaphone

Re: But How

Either It will phone you and tell you to come outside and pick up your parcel from the clearly marked opening on the side of the truck, or some minimum wage van monkey will be employed to dribble it to your door.

Automated Royal Mail trucks will of course be miniaturised as they will only be carrying "sorry we missed you" cards anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But How

"But how will a driverless delivery truck push a 'We called but you were out' note though the letterbox then run away before you can get to the door?"

There, fixed that for you.

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Joke

Re: But How

"But how will a driverless delivery truck knock on your door to tell you the delivery has arrived?"

Text message? Phone call? Or just drive through the window, if it's using Apple maps.

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Anonymous Coward

@James Micallef

But the only difference there is that robots do all the heavy lifting as opposed to people with the IQ of a Rottweiler

Seen as Transcendental/Sentient AI is likely an impossibility everything requiring thought, invention or leaps of logic would require people, and if Transcendental/Sentient AI were possible, it would probably do a far better job of running the world then human beings.

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Megaphone

Re: Self check out

Actually, I refuse to self check. I have actually stood in a line, with empty self-check kiosks. When I buy something in a brick-and-mortar store, one of the things I'm paying for is the salary of the checker. I'll be damned if that money goes to the business' profits.

Join me in boycotting self-check.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

Already happening, the cost benefits have been weighed (theft v staffing costs).

You are going to start to see all self scans stores opening soon.

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Thumb Up

@Oninoshiko re: no self-check

I'm the same. I also have stood in line while self-service kiosks stood empty. Part of my shopping experience is talking to the checkout chick (or sometimes guy), catching up on what the yoof of today are into (as I have no kids of my own, talking to the young people in shops is pretty much the only chance I get to catch up with the doings of the young). Even when I've been asked to use the kiosks, I've refused, saying I would rather be served by a person, thank you. The day they remove the choice and force me to use a kiosk will be the last day I ever shop there.

One thing I've also noticed is that my local greengrocers, butchers, bakers and the like are doing a roaring trade. It's not unusual of a Saturday morning to see a crowd spilling out the doorways of the local strip-shops. More and more people are shunning the dehumanising impersonality of the supermarkets, even if the prices are cheaper, because there's nothing like good old-fashioned friendly service from your local butcher, baker or greengrocer. The meat, bread, and fruit & veg is much fresher and better quality, too.

I do sometimes order my groceries online and get it delivered, but this is actually becoming rarer. I'd much rather take the time to go into my local butcher and have him fresh-cut a decent steak for me, with the rind of fat still on, rather than accept whatever stripped, fat-free, processed crap the warehouse-picker grabs off the shelf and shoves into a foam box to drop on my doorstep.

And I agree, like you, that I'd far rather my money went to gainfully employing someone who is willing to work, rather than filling the coffers of wealthy shareholders who do no work for a living and wax fat on the labour of others.

As would a lot of other people. Remember, the fact that there's a line for the manned checkout while self-service kiosks are empty means that all those people in line would also rather be served by a human being than by a computer. And they want it badly enough that they're prepared to spend time waiting to get that service. We're far from alone alone, friend.

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Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

I've used the self-checkout lane at the supermarket. If the tech is only that good there's no way in hell you're replacing 90% of staff. The humans are still faster because they're more flexible. Even the really unskilled ones.

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Re: a new era of philosophy and science could be heralded.

and then you'd inadvertently take the red pill and ....

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Re: we're back to subsistence farming.

If you're lucky it stops at subsistence farming. Most people these days couldn't even engage in subsistence farming. I mean I know some gardening, but with that kind of societal collapse, I don't know that I could support myself.

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Re: Just the tip of the iceberg

Text or phone you. Give warnings at half-hour/20min/20min/5min/arrived. Come the arrival time you just go out to the truck, enter your security code or insert bank card to verify identity, and the robotics inside will move your parcel to the collection window. Once the parcel is removed the truck resumes, towards the next customer.

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Anonymous Coward

A driverless car, I could play SimCity on my commute!

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Joke

Only if the servers are up :)

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Anonymous Coward

I call you

The anonymous straight man - setting yourself up for your own joke.

A bit low that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I call you

Then putting you down for settings yourself up for your own joke.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I call you

Nurse! It's happening again!

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Bronze badge

I for one welcome our new driverless cars

If it can pilot me to work by the swiftest back road route and - on a winters' day - negotiate the icy slope up to our company car park spaces.

I fear though that this is a solution that only works with 100% uptake. The strategies involved in trying to ascertain if a car coming in the opposite direction as the road narrows is going to

a) overtake the cyclist and then race through the gap before you reach it

b) hang back behind the cyclist and allow you to get through the gap first

c) b) then change their mind and achieve a)

d) do something else

are still I fear beyond human let alone machine comprehension.

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Devil

Re: I for one welcome our new driverless cars

d) is the answer- driverless bicycles.

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Terminator

Re: I for one welcome our new driverless cars

Presumably that's what we have a the moment, though. Adding robot drivers can only improve things; every so often you get a situation like this with a primitive meatbag driver operating the other vehicle and you're momentarily as badly off as everybody was all the time five years earlier.

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Anonymous Coward

And if we hadn't designed those damn mule/cattle/horse drawn plows we could all still be gainfully employed in the fields! In fact, if we hadn't developed agriculture at all we could still wear furs and hunt wild animals with chiseled spears.

If we hadn't designed better industrial machinery more people would be employed in dangerous factory jobs, if we hadn't automated large amounts of the mining industry hundreds would still die down coal shafts (like in China)

It's inevitable that as technology progresses it will put people out of jobs, there the best that can be hoped for is that they get reskilled in a new field, take off on their own or in the worst case society can provide for their loss. The advantages accumulate over time with proper management and direction, as you no longer need to worry about finding drivers people will no longer see it as a useful skill set, that skill set will eventually end up as another novelty skill set (like blacksmiths.)

In this case the immediate advantages are, increased safety, ability to transport massive loads automatically all night and day, companies no longer need to aquire drivers, no more need to test drivers for alcohol or drug abuse, no more need to test if drivers are working too long hours, there are likely more advantages.

Also it wouldn't happen over night, so it's alarmist, foolish and, misleading to talk about 15 million jobs. In the end it may mean 15 million jobs, but over what kind of time frame?

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Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Science and Technology companies have soon start thinking about social impacts for sure, but i cant see 10m being put on the scrap heap straight away, i would see these being sidelined into roles supporting the new master of the road, yes the bus will drive itself, but the bags may not load/unload themselves, same with couriers, unless we fee paying customers start having to take on more responsibility, "doing more for less". The other important role is to be ready to hit the big red STOP button, when things start going bendy

Automated warehouses already exist with humans supporting the machines doing the put away and picking, leaving us sacks of meat to feed the put away and consolidate the picking processes and being ready to hit the big red STOP button , with white collar staff still pushing paper in the office mezzanines for now.

The more worrying item will be living longer, with all the great advances in medicine, not enough housing stock, not enough networks to transport, nor enough land to feed them is the quality of life worth hanging on for a few more grim years.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

The food thing isn't really true even if you don't take into account the potential of genetically modified crops managed by vast automated agri-farming systems. Anyone remember the mountains of food that are left to rot in Europe in order to balance the books. The old milk lakes and grain mountains. Also if we stopped wasting good crop land for biofuels - that'd be a start.

Housing is an easy enough technical issue to solve if anyone could be bothered as are transport networks.

Also on transport networks, if you have 3 main pillars, transport networks are of less use, vast telecoms arrays, vast power supplies(fusion/geothermal/whatever), and a mostly automated work force. You could live in your little idyllic village running your hand made name plate business and only ever really need to leave when visiting relatives or going on holiday. Those employed by other people could happily telework from anywhere on the face of the planet (except the active warzones and places that haven't been dragged out of poverty)

Of course entire nations could collapse at the same time, anywhere reliant on oil production for instance... but as with the bus drivers, adapt or die. Of course that would have a side benefit as terrorists wouldn't get their hands on lucrative oil money anymore. After a period of unpleasant turmoil of course.

It's exciting imagining good scenarios!

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Driverless to the door?

So if we have driverless delivery vehicles, who's going to take the package out of the van and leave it on the doorstep in the rain for a passer-by to nick, or put a postcard through the door saying 'we called but couldn't be arsed to ring the bell you were out'

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Driverless to the door?

City Link are clearly unknown leaders in the driver-less field. They just drive up, fire a notice of attempted delivery at your door and drive off. I've long held the theory that there is actually only one City Link van per region. Years ago at uni my friends and I thought they must have some form of automated machine, filling out the cards... little did we realise the system was even more autonomous than we thought.

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Pint

I'd be more worried..

... about the rush to automate huge amounts of infrastructure/logistics when we can't even secure what we have already. Think about it. Do we really want to suffer huge amounts of economic damage because the most popular vehicle kits have been hacked?

Still I think it's a little alarmist to think this would happen rapidly. Retrofitting or replacing vehicles would take a lot of time and money. Not to mention that there will probably be a tax grab that will slow adoption. I mean the government would look at that as a loss of income tax and would try to make up for the shortfall. Never mind voters being up in arms.

I don't see a problem with automated solutions being used to bring back manufacturing from overseas. But the problem is coming up with a solution that is cheaper.

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Terminator

I'm worried about the driverless white vans

If they try and sell me some speakers they've got in the back they might not take no for an answer.

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Vic
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Joke

Re: I'm worried about the driverless white vans

> they might not take no for an answer.

"Please buy some speakers. You have twenty seconds to comply"

Vic.

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Stop

Need to rethink whole economy

A good dystopian description of where this could lead is described here: http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

Ideally, however, there would be some kind of basic income guarantee for everyone, so that nobody would *need* to work (though they could choose to, and thus supplement their income, if they wanted to): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income_guarantee

But this is unlikely to happen in the plutocracy/neofeudalism currently in favour, and would be rejected by the PTB as filthy pinko socialist talk.

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Re: Need to rethink whole economy

Personally, I don't think that the majority of people both individually or as a group are capable of sitting around doing nothing with their lives.

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Re: Need to rethink whole economy

"Personally, I don't think that the majority of people both individually or as a group are capable of sitting around doing nothing with their lives."

Well then instead of blaming welfare "scroungers", we should be looking at them to discover how you can live a meaningful life on "handouts".

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