The Coming Tsunami of Automation

As many people in the world pass through the eye of the pandemic storm, aspiring to survive and experience the sun again, another catastrophe looms—albeit barely visible. This potentially devastating problem lurks around the corner from the big-box store that may have just provided their COVID-19 vaccinations, but it is of a very different nature. We are facing a pending tsunami of automation.

This pending tsunami is fueled by many converging factors, with technology at its center. As companies struggle to fill positions, they will look toward automation as a solution. And, as a rising minimum wage affects their bottom lines, they will seek ways to replace people with more cost-effective, profit-friendly tools. COVID-19 was a wake-up call for many companies to find alternative ways to do business.

Winners and Losers

Of course, automation won’t be a disaster for everyone, as the six sister cities of Silicon Valley ( will create millions of new millionaires and thousands of new billionaires. We suggest that all the delighted recipients of whichever jab was received at the corporate superstore—amid their bliss that the ordeal may finally be over and that sanity may return soon—should also consider the organization behind the building they just left and ask why anyone is actually working in there.

Next, if they look around at the other stores in the mall, they may be terrified when they consider that the plethora of fast-food restaurants, hardware stores, gas stations, and everything else in view will soon be automated. Moreover, the self-driving trucks making the deliveries in the future will be able to travel 24 hours a day. They’ll follow highway regulations as a matter of programming, so all is not bad. But these trucks will also unload themselves. This scenario isn’t science fiction or a figment of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s imagination, and it isn’t waiting for a future generation. It’s an inevitability, and it’s coming to a strip mall near you.

As everyone emerges from their bunkers and shelters, they will discover that the companies of the six sister cities of Silicon Valley are replicating as quickly as the perpetrator of the last global catastrophe. Processor technologies that would baffle Star Trek’s Mr. Spock are being blasted out by NVIDIA, Intel, AMD, and others. Cloud companies such as Google, AWS, Microsoft, and VMware are providing effectively unlimited capacity and services. These technologies and platforms are enabling old, new, and yet-to-be-booted-up companies to conceive of genius uses of AI inference, machine-learning training, and deep-learning muscle memory. There is almost nothing outside of the arts and sports that will not be automated.

No Heavy Lifting

Let’s consider examples such as the amazing Amazon “Go” store ( In this scenario, a mind-bending array of cameras and interpolations determines what items the human customer has selected and then charges them to the customer’s credit card. Notice that this is the only mention of a human doing anything in this article. How are the shelves stacked? Surely that job requires a hefty and sweaty employee? Not so. Think of “Stretch” (, a new robot from Boston Dynamics.

And, if you aren’t a fan of Stretch and want to move into the 25th century a bit more slowly, try automating your warehouse processes with technology offered by companies such as 6 River Systems (

There are more questions to consider, such as one posed by fast-food restaurants over the last 14 months: Why do any of them have dining rooms? And wouldn’t an automated system be trivial? “I’ll take a number 3, large, with fries” is not linguistically challenging, and we won’t need Captain Picard (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) to deploy a futuristic food synthesizer to pass that burger into the driver’s-side window.

The Real Cost

Unfortunately, this new technology buffet comes at a frightening cost. For those of us concerned with the privacy-busting but comfort-creating idea of vaccine passports, there is much more to come. The 3 billion or so nucleotides that make us the unique animals we call humans can be sequenced, of course, and the data stored. So why not automate that? And, since we’re on the subject, let’s do it as quickly as a barcode can be scanned.

So, what will the average blue-collar worker do in this new techtopia? We can all watch with unlimited attention and enthusiasm the ongoing debate among politicians and economists about the efficacy of a universal basic income, but some quick Googling (yes, we used Google as a verb) will provide contrary views on the long-term consequences of such social engineering.

The answer is: “Who knows?” But flippancy aside, we are about to see the emergence of a gaggle of new AI/machine learning/analytics companies that will create an unlimited menu of physical and programmatic automation options and become very rich in the process. Where that will take humanity is a mystery that even The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling might choose to leave in an unknown dimension. However, back on Earth in 2021, we, the authors of this article, take solace in the fact that baseball is again being played with fans in the cheap seats—and we do believe that the Yankees and the Red Sox won’t soon be automated.




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