But in some cases, the rush to replace costly, fragile humans with machines can overlook some challenges. The old adage that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it seems worth deep consideration. The fact is, the robots can do a better job from the standpoint of the business unit, but may have inherent limitations when that job faces the public.
Which brings us to the Golden Gate Bridge. No, not to jump. March 26th, next week, will be the last day that there will be human toll-takers on the the famous red suspension bridge. Now, in one sense, the job of toll-taker is an ideal one for machines to take. Tedious and repetitive, the entire job consists of moving currency back and forth between a driver and a drawer. And the FasTrak automated toll payment system, utilizing RFID transponders and a camera-based enforcement mechanism works very well indeed. Despite the fact that I cross the bay area bridges only rarely, I have been a FasTrak user for years, and find it to be a much better system than one could have hoped.
But here's the thing - for those times when the customer chose, there was always the alternative option of stopping and paying the toll with cash. As of Wednesday, that option will no longer exist. Everyone will pay using FasTrak, a credit card deduction system or will receive a bill in the mail. No accommodation for kids, tourists, rental cars or borrowed cars will exist. And, of course, if you have a new car that still has the paper license plates on it, crossing the bridge is effectively free.
This is going to be a huge problem for a few weeks or months. But it's going to be an ongoing problem for much longer than that. I'm certainly no Luddite and I don't think we should preserve jobs just because the incumbent job-holder is a human - although we are, at some point, going to have to figure out how to take care of millions of people who will never hold gainful employment again - but the withdrawal of ALL the human-toll takers and the removal of any non-automated payment solution seems premature at best. Just as companies have in some cases decided the cost and inefficiency of human receptionists far outweighs the cost in goodwill engendered by an automated phone system, it seems likely that we have not truly seen the last human toll-taker on Bay Area bridges.