It's a hot topic up for debate, are grocery stores justified in installing self-check out systems? Do pharmacies have the right to eliminate your pharmacist in favor of a robot arm? What about Google's self-driving cars in place of taxi cab drivers?
Needless to say there's no right or wrong answer, but there are a few things to consider before jumping to a conclusion. Let's look at a self-checkout system at a grocery store.
Unless you live under a rock you have probably used a self-check out system at your local grocery store, chances are you had to run in for a few things and didn't feel like waiting in line behind the people who's carts were stacked sky high. Often times grocery stores are only running a few of their many checkout lines so you opt for a self-check out. My experiences have been mostly positive, I scan my items, pay, and am walking out much faster than I would have if I waited in line. It almost seems too good to be true, customers are happy and your checkout process is more efficient, but let's take a closer look.
It turns out the self-check out systems, aren't a exactly win-win for owners. One of the major issues with these systems is theft. According to a recent survey from the U.K., Retail Wire reports, "approximately 19 percent of shoppers admit to stealing from self-checkouts with the majority of those claiming they did so regularly. Around 57% of those indicated they first started stealing at self-checkouts because they couldn't get the items to scan." via Self-checkout theft is habit forming.
Can we blame people for bagging items that wouldn't scan? That's another discussion entirely, but while the self-checkouts are faster, they're not necessarily more efficient if they allow theft. On the surface self-checkouts seemed like a no brainier, but after looking a little bit closer we can see just how valuable a human is as opposed to a computer in the grocery line.
The truth is that a lot of these technologies are not developed enough to be put into mainstream use without a human controlling or managing them. Pharmacies are toying with the idea of an automated pharmacist, but there's no technology even close to replacing a human. Google's self-driving cars are awesome, but can't drive anywhere that's not predetermined by a bunch of route planning done by senors and other humans driving the route first. The best automation is the kind that assists humans in doing their job.
One of the things we strive for as an integrator is not sacrificing humans for a more efficient process. This doesn't work out in the long run, we believe machines should be doing the jobs that people wish machines could have done years ago and help a company meet demand. For example, a bottling line machine that produces 500 bottles per minute as opposed multiple people trying to bottle enough beer to meet demand is a great thing. Allowing companies to have the technology they need to grow, expand, and hire more people to run the machines is what automation and integration is all about.
At the end of the day we aren't at the technological level of robots independently running society and we're sure nowhere near Terminator or the Matrix, as much as I would love rebelling against the robot empire. For now you can put away your tin-foil hats and grab a programing book, because one thing I know for sure is that computer automation isn't going anywhere so why not be ahead of the curve?