Rise of the robots and all the lonely people
Replacing people with machines decreases opportunities for social interactions helping many feel integrated. Self-service in shops, libraries, banks and other places means people can go all day without conversation with a “real” person. It is set to worsen, to the detriment of contact and service quality.
It is no coincidence that Lidl, the fastest-growing supermarket, resisted moves to self-service tills until recently. Self-service remains widely disliked. Nor does replacing staff with machines always improve service. Here in York, Virgin Trains plans to replace its knowledgeable and efficient station ticket office staff with machines. It’s an unpopular move opposed by over 3,000 petitioners, but Virgin ploughs on like the American railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who reputedly said “the public be damned”.
Observation shows that staff are usually far quicker at issuing tickets, especially in complex ticket orders. Machines (when not all out of order) cannot answer the variety of questions the public ask. Nor can they help the many still suffering functional illiteracy.
Some automation brings benefits – but not, please, to fully replace human interaction.
• On Friday, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness releases its findings. We, its members, are proud to take forward Jo’s vision of a more connected world. As Jo said: “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate.”
Nine million people of all ages in the UK are always or often lonely. Loneliness is as bad for us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. However, the report shows we can all tackle loneliness. Businesses, government, charities and the public have a role, and Christmas is the perfect time to begin. Start a conversation to help us build Jo’s legacy of a less lonely society.
Tony Hawkhead Action for Children, Steve Murrells Co-op, Laura Alcock-Ferguson Campaign to End Loneliness, Mike Adamson British Red Cross, Jeremy Hughes Alzheimer’s Society, Stephen Hale Refugee Action, Catherine Johnstone Royal Voluntary Service, Richard Kramer Sense, Sophie Andrews The Silver Line, Janet Morrison Independent Age, Heléna Herklots Carers UK, Caroline Abrahams Age UK, Peter Stewart Eden Project
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