As innovation kicks in, many jobs face extinction

Cashiers are on the verge of extinction. Not only cashiers actually, tellers are at risk too. Over the past few weeks we were all brought the apocalyptical — and somehow misinformed — message of Greta Thunberg, that within 10 to 12 years the humanity will begin the process of extinction. But what is actually far more possible, is that routine jobs has already begun such path.
A few years ago, one of the world’s leading fast food companies faced pressure from workers and unions for a distributed salary increment for most of their low skilled employees, such as cashiers at their restaurants.
As if often happen, innovation kicks in, as a way to reduce costs, hence, given the request for higher salaries, the corporation worked with innovation. Within a short period of time, self ordering kiosks were placed at the fast food outlets, leaving workers and union speechless.
They did not realise how easy and cheap would have been to replace human beings in a low skilled job.
Now we have become used to order, pay or perform all sorts of transactions through machines in so many businesses throughout our day to day activities.
Every time I land in Singapore, holding a Singapore Permanent Resident ID, I am so pleased to skip the queue at the booths with humans, and proceed at light speed through the automated gates. I just scan the passport as well as my fingerprint, and in less than 30 seconds I am through.
This is applicable to all of the Singapore citizens, permanent residents and employees legally working in Singapore. Such a tech facility multiplied by the 4 terminals at Changi airport, makes the journey back home a seamless experience for millions of travellers, but at the expenses of those employees of the immigration authorities who used to work at the now-automated booths.
I do not have exact figures on how many travellers are served by humans vs those who go through automated gates at the airport terminals in Singapore, but I would imagine that 50-50 could be a decent guess, considering that leaving Singapore entitles some tourists too, to use the automated gates.
I wonder how long it would take before the largest majority of airport passengers will enter an exit countries without humans checking their passport?
Also the check-in experience at the Changi airport is seamless. By booking my tickets online, I receive my booking confirmation by email.
I then book online a taxi — which for now is still driven by a human — and proceed to the airport, where self check in kiosks are ready up to 3 hours prior to the flight. There I print my boarding pass and the label for my luggage.
Then proceed to the self check-in conveyor belts that “gobbles up” my luggage. Next step, through immigration, where a police officer checks that my name on the boarding pass and on my passport matches, but then the immigration gate is automated.
These few steps, 10 to 15 years ago, would have implied me talking to a human travel agent, a human taxi dispatcher, a human check-in teller at the airport and a human immigration officer. A total of 4 jobs that I do not come across anymore in Singapore. Many other countries are experimenting with such a seamless experience for travellers.
Coming to retail, in my experience, I almost never check out my grocery at the human cashier in Singapore. First of all, I buy my grocery online 90 per cent of the times.
Secondly, when I go to the supermarket, I checkout at the automated cashier, where I scan my own products and pay with my card, often bypassing the queue.
Only one employee of the supermarket is stationed at the 6 automated cashiers, to help out just in case any client experiences difficulties. Even in this field, no statistics are publicly provided on how many opt of the self-checkout experience vs the human interaction in Singapore, but my gut feeling tells me that 50-50 is again a valid guess. Perhaps the cashiers that were made redundant are now working at the logistic, until machines will make their job redundant one more time.
Lastly, banks. I seldom — and I emphasise very seldom — go to bank. Virtually 99 per cent of all I need to do at the bank is now available through my mobile phone or on my computer. In Singapore I can go by a whole month without withdrawing a single dollar, yet being able to pay for all the products and services that I need.
The automated teller machine (ATM) was the first implementation of simple transactions being totally automated and available 24/7.
And now, Internet banking has completed the job. I guess that banks have opted to shift tellers to the role of “advisers” with the goal of selling more banking products.
Until the next automated seller will become normality.

 

stefano@virgilli.com