(Bernie here) A recent shopping experience brought to mind “Singularity” and my ongoing discussions with Ron Segiel and others about the threat of advanced technology. The premise of Singularity is that technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become so advanced that technology will turn on humans, rendering us obsolete. (My thoughts on that later…)
Last weekend I was experimenting with a new system called “Scan, Bag, Go.” Using a special device, or phone app, shoppers scan and bag their groceries as they go about the store. Several large chains (including Amazon) are testing prototypes to streamline their brick and mortar operations, eliminating a pet peeve - lines at the checkout stands. The advantage of this system is, just like online shopping, you check out and pay when you are ready. No standing in line. (The irony of using a virtual shopping cart to check out a real one did not escape me!)
What does this have to do with Singularity? As I moved about the store, it dawned on me - I was probably training some AI system with my shopping patterns. GPS-enabled devices can teach AI how to analyze shoppers’ movements, configure store layouts, replicate the shopping experience, then eventually replace human shoppers with - GASP! - ROBOTS! A ready-made service for those who don’t like shopping.
At first, it was troubling to think my actions could be helping this march towards “Singularization” just for faster checkouts. But I also recognize (and herein are my general thoughts about the subject) all these high-tech gadgets and online systems are designed to do one thing - deliver products. Our entire global economy is a consumer-driven economy. Most of these products are uniquely human. E.g., food - robots don’t eat! In fact, the driving force behind many advanced technologies is streamlining delivery systems, not replacing the ultimate consumer.
This also applies to the housing market. Systems and technologies will continue to evolve to improve the delivery of these products and services. Humans will always need places to live and sleep (and eat) - but not robots. A home is a uniquely human product, and it requires specialized knowledge, experience, and empathy to understand what consumers want. The form, shape, financing, and ownership of our residences may change over time, but for the foreseeable future, humans will need homes, and other humans to facilitate the process.
Our job as professionals is to understand the changes in the needs and wants of our population, and provide personalized (human) service. While systems for delivery may change over time, the ultimate consumer will still be human. The personal touch that guides that human through the process cannot be replicated or replaced by even the smartest robot.