As social media replaces much of our social life and automation streamlines business, human contact is increasingly becoming a luxury good.
Automation has given us a lot¥. Automation allows us to make more with less. It brings down the cost and goods and services, and it improves our overall standard of living. The history of human prosperity is largely the history of automation, but automation is increasingly pushing us out of our own lives.
In manufacturing, machines originally automated difficult or repetitive tasks, but automation has succeeded to such a degree that the humans involved in the process are now largely doing those few tasks that have not yet been automated. Increasingly, factory and logistics workers work alone and receive instructions from a machine. They are expected to adapt themselves to the needs of their automated counterparts rather than the other way around.
Automation has also completely transformed the consumer experience. Today we are all perfectly capable of using ATMs, pumping our own gas, operating our own elevators, and pressing two for support in English. In five years, we’ll probably be used to supermarket self-checkout as well.
We’re saving money and gaining efficiency, but we are losing something important.
No one specific interaction with a bank teller, a retail clerk, or receptionist really means that much to us, but together, collectively, they mean a lot. These little interactions, these micro-relationships, help us feel connected. They help hold society together, and they are rapidly disappearing.
We have been overtaken by our own efficiency, and transactions have replaced relationships. Increasingly, we find that we are the bottleneck in every situation. Every month, we discover that more and more commercial interactions have been automated and optimized so that we are now the weakest link. We are always the ones slowing things down. We are not designed to function this way.
The impact of our disappearing micro-relationships was shown in recent research by Cigna. Despite our increasing levels of connectivity, we are reporting record levels of loneliness, and for the first time, younger generations are feeling more lonely and disconnected than older ones.
We need less efficiency and more micro-relationships in our lives. But how do we get there? Slowing or reversing automation and employing more people works for high-priced goods and services, but not on a society-wide scale. The economic advantages to automation are overwhelming, but we need something to soften the emotional blow.
The answer, of course, is Evocative Machines.
Evocative Machines are machines that evoke emotions in us, and that we interact with, not as we interact with people, but more like the way we interact with pets.
When pressed, we’ll admit that our pets are not human and that they don’t really have human emotions. However, we are happy to project human emotions onto them. It makes us feel more connected when we do so. Of course, your dog or cat cares for you, but let’s face it, you have to do most of the work in that relationship. And that’s fine. All over the world people with pets feel less lonely, more connected. and happier than those without them.
Evocative Machines will never replace the real relationships we have people or even with pets, but they can help replace the micro-relationships that we are rapidly losing, and that will unquestionably make the world a happier place.