Is Automation Too Much
 of a Good Thing?

I’m all for progress.

But, sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing.

Take automation, for example. It’s a hot topic these days, and the trend has gone way beyond automated factories.

The juicy stuff is new technologies that impact our everyday life. Self-driving cars are a big one. It sounds pretty cool, and I can imagine sitting in the car doing something productive while the machine takes me to and fro.

Of course, someone can get run over and killed by a self-driving car while they’re legally crossing the street. It’s happened before, it’ll likely happen again.

But aren’t computer-driven cars supposed to be better than humans?

I’m sure, over time, these mechanical issues will be worked out, and driving will become safer. For now, though, I prefer to drive my own car, thank you very much.

Money is pouring into the automation and connectivity space. A company called IFTTT (not the most memorable brand name) just raised $24 million from the likes of and IBM. IFTTT has created a platform that allows developers an easy way to connect apps across different devices. It’s trying to connect everything.

The company has 14 million registered users and 75 million applets (a program that’s much smaller in scope than an app) have been developed. Over 5,000 developers are hard at work creating software to connect disparate apps.

I’m skeptical because this was the company’s first round of fresh capital in four years and there’s a bit of mystery surrounding its operations. Also, once you connect all of your devices, you don’t know who’s watching. Our privacy will soon be a thing of the past (if it isn’t already).

In addition, when it comes down to it, I don’t want “constant connectivity!” Rather, I want to get away from too much technology. I recently started reading real books again – you know, real print, paper, and binding… Unmovable words are welcome relief from “always on” screen time.

There are other areas of automation that concern me. Recently, the travails of automation bubbled up in a sacred place: my beer glass.

Let me back up a moment. The gang here at Dent Research gets together in person about once every three months to talk about the markets and our products and to strategize and build camaraderie. After one of these meetings, at a nice downtown Baltimore hotel, we were given a card that allowed us to go up to a wall of beer taps to pour out a pint of our choice.

It was right out of The Jetsons: You set down your glass, swipe the card, press the button, and next thing you know there’s a nice cold IPA.

In theory.

The problem is that it didn’t work very well.

What you thought might be an IPA turned out to be a stout. The root beer spilled all over the place. Other taps ran out of beer half way through the pour. And, with no people around, it was hard to fix the problems.

It was an interesting concept that was a disaster in reality. I like having a bartender. I want a real, live person pouring my drink. I also want to converse with real, live people at a bar. It’s a social place.

It’s also part of one of my better business strategies.

I travel quite a bit for work. Prior to my departure, I scope out a good restaurant that serves food in its bar area. I prefer to eat there and hang out. I’ve made good business contacts by hanging out at a good restaurant’s bar, talking to actual people, and being served by a live bartender. This has happened too many times to count.

When all of our social experiences are eliminated due to automation, and we’ve completely succumbed to the seduction of our phones and other connected devices, society will be in big trouble.

It’s already happened to a large degree. Children don’t even learn cursive in school anymore. Why learn to write when you can hammer out an email?

I believe the key to success in business and life is communication. I don’t mean by typing out an email. I mean real interaction with real people.

While a lot of our communication at Dent Research is over email (and Slack, and Skype, and Zoom, and Box, and…), some of the best work gets down with folks sitting in a room together, figuring out what the next move is. Problems get solved more effectively and new ideas pop up more freely.

If we automate this, we’d be watering down our capacity for innovation and growth.


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