I did a short post on Auto-ordering in November 2011.

It often seems like all our jobs are going to be automated away. The Economist talks of autonomous electric vehicles whisking commuters to and from work as they sleep. But electric cars, and almost everything else it seems, have become so much simpler to manufacture than what’s gone before, now requiring so few components, being so comparatively simple to construct that they can easily be put together by robots, that there may be no jobs for these sleeping beauties to go to.

We’ve gotten our minds round automation affecting manufacturing, but it’s hitting office work too. Machines are plowing through legal case reports saving hours of legal intern grunt work. On-line medical diagnosis will soon be a widespread first line of defense. In publishing, if we haven’t done too much in this line it’s probably because we are reluctant to invest, rather than because the work cannot be automated. We all think we can tell when automatic spell-checker and style-checkers have been used, but that just means that they have been used — and will as they improve be used more and more, with less and less detectability.

When I was last at work we had lots of books which we never needed to consider for reprinting. Some were true print-on-demand titles where we held no inventory in the warehouse (of these there were thousands) and others were set up so that when the inventory on hand fell to a certain number (which might be calculated as say 1/6th of the last year’s sale) an order for perhaps half a year’s worth would automatically go to the printer via EDI, to be delivered to the warehouse a couple of weeks later. Nobody needed to raise a reprint request, get an estimate and do a costing, make a decision, write a purchase order, maintain a reprint progress report.

For the production and manufacturing department it’s a race to the bottom. The only reason why we might not all have automated reordering for our reprint programs some day soon, is that we may stop carrying stock of our books at all! Closing the warehouse delivers a bang for the buck which makes getting rid of the manufacturing department an almost inaudible tinkle. One has to reflect that there are few functions which the production department of my earlier days used to carry out which cannot now easily be freelanced out, left to the printer or typesetting supplier, or, most killingly, just programmed into the computer.

Exactly what we are all meant to do when all the human jobs go away remains to be determined. Maybe we’ll surprise ourselves and be able to tolerate limitless leisure-time without murder and mayhem. Massive education is going to be necessary: you’ll have to be taught to measure personal worth and dignity not by your job, but by what you do with your life.

And here’s tomorrow’s manufacturing department on the company outing.

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