Airports: Becoming Do It Yourself

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2 years ago - 5 minutes read

In this blog, we often discuss how technological unemployment is a serious threat and something that is going to happen. Many still feel that the age old idea that technology creates more jobs than it destroys will hold true. Perhaps in the long term, it will.

The challenge is that, in the near-to-medium term, jobs are going to get obliterated. Even an organization like McKinsey, keeps increasing the numbers of jobs it sees being wiped out in the United States by 2030.

Basically, the consensus is not very good in that area.

We see good reason for this. The automation is starting to take place all around us. The articles that I post on this subject are inspired by stuff read online. In this area, it does not take a great deal of research to uncover what is taking place.

Airport Jobs Becoming Scarce

There was an article in the Los Angeles Times that depicted the writer's experience with traveling overseas. It is very insightful into how technology is really starting to alter the landscape of travel.

Due to COVID lockdowns, the author had not been traveled overseas in a while. This story related details his experience going from Los Angeles to Germany.

Obviously, not traveling for a while allowed him to see the contrast between what it was like before the lockdowns as compared to now. Much of what had human interaction is not automated.

It all began upon entry into the airport.

For the first time, I didn’t see anyone around to help me when I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport and checked in for my flight at a self-serve kiosk. In the past, there’s always been someone there to assist the technologically incompetent.

There evidently were a number of firsts.

It was the first time I didn’t hand my boarding pass to a human as I filed onto the plane. I merely scanned it and walked through an automatic turnstile, with no one present to check on me.

This is not something that is exclusive to the United States.

Returning home from Frankfurt, Germany, I printed my own luggage tags from a machine and then hoisted my bag myself onto an unmanned conveyor belt, where it was security-checked by a machine rather than a person and sent on its way. This is what the industry calls a “self-service bag drop solution.”

I can’t be sure, but based on what I’ve read, it’s possible that at both airports, my suitcase was conveyed to the plane not by workers but by robots.

The last part is something that is being implemented in airports around the world. What the author did not mention that airplane inspections are now being done by drones who fly over the entire aircraft, producing video that is fed into a system which is reviewed by AI along with human inspectors.

Getting back to the trip and returning to the US, we see more automation.

Coming back through passport control at LAX, I stopped at yet another self-service kiosk. The machine took a photo of me, identified me from the image and OKd me for entry into the country. The ID was done through “biometric facial comparison technology” and involved no fingerprints, no passports, no questions. At the end, I handed a piece of paper to a guy who barely looked at it, saying only, “Welcome home.”

We finally get a person in the equation, one who was likely counting down the minutes until his or her lunchbreak.

This is an unbelievable amount of automation to be installed in such a short period of time. As mentioned, the kiosk check in system was in place a few years ago. Yet it is evident that the airports and airlines are intent on having less personnel available to help out.

The numbers get serious when we consider how many airports there are throughout the world. Most major cities have at least one airport, which once was bustling with lots of workers. While they are not disappearing entirely, it is evident that they are starting to be dwindled down.

Overall Reduction In People?

If this situation continues, which it will, we could see people in serious trouble. This is not an isolated case. There examples across many industries that reflect the same practice. The question is what impact does this have on employment?

In the situation at the airport, here is what we are told:

LAX officials insist that in most cases, these automation changes don’t mean fewer jobs, often because new ones are being created in the process. But for travelers, “Do the work yourself” is the new mantra. The new technologies mean “the passengers themselves take care of most of the administration,” as one industry consulting firm put it, reducing the need for paid humans in many traditional roles.

There is a surprise. Automation does not mean fewer jobs. Instead, we are led to believe it is leading to new ones being created.

Where have we heard that one before? Oh I know, everywhere that automation is being incorporated. This seems to be the go to line for employers. All want to insist that more jobs are being created as a result of the automation that is taking place.

Certainly, there are some industries that do have labor shortages. One is the trucking sector. There are simply not enough drivers for the amount of cargo which needs to be moved. For this reason, a lot of resources are going into the development of autonomous trucking. The mantra there is the technology is going to be used to make up for the shortage.

Does anyone believe that is where it will stop?

The reality is that corporations are all going to do the same thing. If they can reduce their expenses by cutting payroll, they will. Automation is much cheaper than humans for most jobs where the technology is up to standard.

What is a challenge is that the technology keeps improving as time passes. This means the scope of what humans can do better than a machine keeps diminishing.

There are a host of industries where this is happening. What most commonly takes place is that a complete job cannot be automated. Instead, we see jobs where 40%-60% of the tasks can be automated. In total, this simply means less workers as the non-automated tasks can be done by fewer people.

How far is this spreading?

We can only follow the articles that keep cropping up. Now we see that Walmart is starting its drone delivery service in NW Arkansas for medical supplies. Is this something that will be expanded if successful?

It is a safe bet.

In the meantime, expect a lot more Do It Yourself activities the next time you head to the airport.

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