Automation, yes, but not in the MICE sector . . .

. . . says Simon Clayton, Chief Ideas Officer, RefTech
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 1.5m people in England are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation. The ONS analysed the jobs of 20m people in 2017 and found 7.4% of these were at high risk of being replaced.

The ONS defines automation as tasks currently carried out by workers being replaced with technology. That could mean with computer programs, algorithms or even robots. The three occupations with the highest probability of automation are waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and basic sales roles.

I’ve also seen people refer to the events industry as a potential casualty of this automation, but I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

I’ve seen video footage of a robot bartender at an event – this is a novelty that picks up a drink from a serving hatch and delivers it to the person who ordered it. But this was just a robot arm (pretty similar to the ones used in car factories) moving a drink from one location to another.

Serving drinks is a relatively simple task for a human, but it would take a very complicated and expensive machine to dispense all of the different drinks available at your average bar. The bartender robot would either need complex pipework, motors and various other tech or extreme mobility and image recognition to be able to make the drinks. This would make it both expensive and very complicated, at which point you have to question the reliability of it, because we see plenty of simple vending machines carrying the sign: ‘Out of Order’!

We’ve seen automation in lots of places in recent years, from irritating phone systems to infuriating supermarket checkouts and I think that sums up the current problem. There are many instances where interactions with real people can transform our experience. They range from not annoying us to delighting us with great service (obviously excluding some of the receptionists at doctors’ surgeries).

There will also be the naysayers who will short-sightedly (in my opinion) refuse to use the automated checkout, in the belief that doing so will put someone out of a job. But are these people still using typing pools and cameras with film that need processing?

Progress is good, technology enables change and evolution applies to the jobs that we do and we should accept that. Dell has stated that 85% of the jobs we will be doing in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.  

But regardless of that, events are very short-lived and trying to get automation capable of dealing efficiently with the sort of queries that we encounter at events is not easy. It is true that some simple procedures, such as scanning a barcode to collect your badge, works really well, but I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to see automation doing any particularly complicated jobs in the events world in the foreseeable future. Mainly because, as humans, we actually do want to interact with other humans who can help us quickly and efficiently.

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