One of the major arguments against the threat of automation is the importance of human relationships in business. I don’t deny that these relationships will remain at the heart of business – see posts I’ve written before about the importance of face-to-face communication and the bandwidth advantage it still has over anything more remote. But there are functions of business where the power of this interaction just won’t be sufficient to protect human workers from their robot replacements.
Following my piece about Tomorrow’s Trucker, Ian Mallon of Neon Freight forwarded me a piece on future trends from FedEx. An email conversation ensued and he asked me whether the trust that is today so critical in logistics would be a factor in limiting the introduction of automation. This is an expanded version of my response.
I wish I believed that the relationship model of business was sustainable, but trust is only important when it feels like there is risk involved. The more automated a process becomes, the more data is collected throughout the package’s journey. This data, properly shared, aids transparency, clarifies responsibility, and ultimately diminishes risk.
When 99.999% of all the things you launch blindly into a logistics system, arrive at their destination, in perfect condition, on time, you will stop worrying about who is responsible. Even if you are concerned, liability in the chain will be so well established that recompense will be automatic and largely uncontested.
This reality remains perhaps 10 years away. Even the most sophisticated parcel carriers have huge variance in their performance, in my experience. But the direction of travel is clear. Fewer and fewer human hands are likely to touch any package in transit. Yet more and more eyeballs will potentially be focused on that package’s performance. And with that transparency, and reliability, so the need for trust and the relationships that underpin them, will be eroded.
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