Episode Ninety One: Disruption; Supply Chains; The Good Bit

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

I’m readjusting to life with family. And on top of that I’m finally getting back into videogames. But anyway, on with the show.

1.0 Disruption

Bear with me on this one, it’s really thinking out loud and thoroughly unresearched. First, some data points:

– Uber obviously wants to replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars[1]
– Google is designing self driving cars / autonomous transport units[2]
– US 2012 Census Statistical Abstract; Labor Force By Industry[3]

I’ve written before about EasyHard[4] problems and now I want to think about SlowFast problems. Because disruption doesn’t happen quickly, it happens like an iceberg hitting the Titanic: slowly, inexorably, somewhat inevitably and then quickly. By the time you notice it, it’s too late.

I wonder how governments get faster. They’ve always (see: there’s a reckon) been pilloried by industry for reacting not only badly but with delayed reflexes, or quickly and badly. At least in good governments there’s a principle of quick legislation always being bad legislation and normally upper houses are a good check on this, at least being able to send back bad or badly ambiguous legislation to lower houses for them to take, sit down in the corner and think carefully about what they’ve just done.

But it feels like there are things that will happen – or are happening – SlowFast and they’ll have a shocking impact to how our nation states work.

The reckon is this: when driverless cars come – and they will – they’ll come quickly. They’ll *feel* like they’re coming slowly, but they’ll come quickly. They will not come in the way that computerisation happened to the back-offices of the 70s through 90s, they’re going to come like an ultrasonic shaped shockwave rippling through glass, smashing it to bits. And then those jobs will be gone.

They won’t be somewhat gone – they’ll be gone. Because this isn’t low-hanging fruit disruption anymore, this is capital D disruption, and I get that people are kind of salivating at their mouths at it, but point me to one time, one time *ever* in the history of humanity when Big Change has happened and it’s gone down relatively well.


The insensitive SFnal geek in me is looking at this stuff – driverless cars, autonomous transport systems, whatever you want to call them, the moment that Kiva and Baxter robots suddenly become slowly, quickly viable in pick-and-pack warehouses – *something* is going to happen and wondering (this is the insensitive bit): where’s the Foundation[5]? Who’s going to pick up the pieces? Around three million people work in haulage/transport jobs in America and, bluntly: those jobs won’t be coming back. They will be done faster, better, cheaper through automation.

But the world that they’ll disappear from isn’t the world of Usborne Utopia[6]. It’s this one.

This is not a new thing. This is what happening when mining disappeared or when merchant shipping disappeared or any number of other industrial shifts.

So what’s being done to make our population and economy resilient? Oh, I get that the *economy* in a way will be resilient. But I’m not sure what that means when x million of jobs get displaced and there’s no safety net.

Software will eat the world. It will not care how.

[1] http://www.theverge.com/2014/5/28/5758734/uber-will-eventually-replace-all-its-drivers-with-self-driving-cars
[2] http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2014/05/just-press-go-designing-self-driving.html
[3] https://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0620.pdf
[4] http://newsletter.danhon.com/episode-nineteen-not-trying-is-a-signal-peak-game-easyhard-snapchat/
[5] http://amzn.to/1pCMpdF
[6] http://life.enhasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/The%20Usborne%20Book%20of%20the%20Future.pdf

2.0 Supply Chains

Some more thoughts about supply chains, following on from yesterday’s episode[1].

The first, prompted by a note from a reader is that yes: the Guardianista sandal-wearing among us fret every time we use Amazon because ohmygosh it’s so convenient but did you hear how they treat their workers[2]? But what’s the alternative? Do you have an option for slightly-more-expensive products with such a stupendously long tail that can also be delivered either next day, or in two working days? No, you don’t.

So it’s unclear whether Amazon’s Amazing Prices (and its supply chain and logistics) can only be delivered thanks to its uncompromising approach to labour (there’s a euphemism for you) or if Bezos is just playing a long con and instead will pull some sort of bait-and-switch and go “surprise!” emancipate all of his workers and then replace them all with faster, cheaper, better Kiva/Baxter pick/pack automation. And anway, Amazon is only one of your worries, you Guardianista lot, Walmart is the other one. And Tesco. And basically all of the giant grocery superstore companies.


The other thing about domestic supply chains is that – for me, at least – getting the stuff to the door isn’t the problem. I can do that. Tesco or Safeway or whoever can deliver stuff to my front door. They could get more regular about it, they could predict better, they could even just make the user experience of ordering the stuff easier. No, the big problem is The Last Few Meters. It’s getting the stuff out of the bag and into cupboards and put away. It’s like how people don’t have laundry problems, they have folding and hanging and putting away problems. Solve that, and you’ll have disrupted something.

[1] http://newsletter.danhon.com/episode-ninety-supply-chain-management-for-seven-billion-too-early-watch_dogs/
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/01/week-amazon-insider-feature-treatment-employees-work

3.0 The Good Bit

Some good news, though. Space is happening.

– SpaceX unveiled Dragon2, their man-rated spacecraft. It looks like a genuine outbreak of the future, only a few decades too late. http://new.livestream.com/spacex/DragonV2

– Citizen scientists have assumed command and control of ISEE-3 in a quite-frankly Apollo 13-esque herculean effort of ingenuity and crowdfunding. http://spacecollege.org/isee3/we-are-now-in-command-of-the-isee-3-spacecraft.html

That’s it for today. As ever, send me notes, because I devour them.