On Robots and Automation

The rise of AI and its potential impact on commerce

Mat Venn
5 min readNov 8, 2017
The good old days.


I came across this article on Ocados robotic picking facility


The tech is impressive but this was my takeaway:

“Replacing human packers will be much harder because that requires a robot that can duplicate the dexterity of the human hand, the ability to grab a bunch of kale, say, without damaging it.”

Those robots are $100,000 a piece. Thats 4 decent humans on above minimum wage + benefits for a whole year. And all those people need is the dexterity they were born with. (And the ability to not want to throw the kale in the bin where it belongs, but I digress)

A piece of Kale, yesterday.

For me robots are great at building cars, I would rather humans were given the jobs that they are great at, like picking my groceries.

Then this:

Domino’s are looking at delivering your pizza using drones or driverless cars, but probably need to understand the following ‘constraints’:

  1. Anyone with a crossbow could take a drone down and enjoy free pizza, without even leaving the beer garden.
  2. Dominos need to invest more money in *actually* making a decent pizza.
  3. How the heck do they get it to ring the doorbell? I mean if you have to leave your premises to go pick it up at the kerb, is it even pizza delivery?

Here is a robot stitching a shoe:

I get that this is cost effective.


Bots could be responsible for 52 percent of web traffic, according to this report, which issues an annual assessment of bot activity online.

As much as I hate customer support, and telesales personnel, the idea of shoving all that onto the laps of bots, creates a whole new set of issues:

  1. I get no real pleasure out of verbally abusing a computer, and typing out said abuse lacks the same gravitas. I need to express my displeasure of a service to an actual human, and for them to share my anxiety and pain.
  2. Most real world problems require more than the very best Artificial Intelligence available, which is still no smarter than a 6 year old. How many 6 year olds can help you cancel your Sky TV or understand the nuance of e-commerce customer returns?.
  3. Social media bots are starting to influence elections and making Twitter a much poorer place to condense your bullcrap into 140(280) characters
  4. Bots are fucking racist. And humans are unfortunately pretty great at that too.

Bots are rubbish, apart from Woebot.


“Woebot is an automated conversational agent (chatbot) who helps you monitor mood and learn about yourself. Drawing from a therapeutic framework known as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Woebot asks people how they’re feeling and what is going on in their lives in the format of brief daily conversations. Woebot also talks to you about mental health and wellness and sends you videos and other useful tools depending on your mood and needs at that moment. You can think of Woebot as a choose-your-own-adventure self-help book that is capable of storing all of your entries, and gets more specific to your needs over time.”
The science is pretty solid


Hypothesis: ‘Automation is going to make everyone redundant.’

In almost all aspects of technology, Moores Law has been pretty solid so far, and if you apply it to the future computerisation of most jobs, the future looks pretty bleak. Most people are going to be sitting at home, on a Universal Basic Income, moaning about Brexit.

The following people are safe tho:


No robot is ever going to be let loose with scissors or those clippery things. The Shoreditch fade is one of the last analogue parts of the digital industry. Same with barbering. I would let a chaffinch nest in my beard before I let a robot near it with a trimmer

People who work with animals and children

Automation is only really cost effective when the work is predictable. Any robot can drill a hole into a piece of metal, but try herding 25 sugar addicted children around Alton Towers. That takes the patience and skill of a human. Same with people who work with animals. Take geese for example. Geese would overthrow a robot army any day of the week.

Geese are absolutely savage


Mental health issues are on the rise. Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease. We all need therapy, and apart from Woebot, people with chronic conditions and drug dependency need humans to help them. Often those humans have been down the hole before, and know the way out. One of my favourite scenes of the West Wing explains this perfectly:

RIP John Spencer.

You can teach a robot how to play chess, or Go, or how to serve drinks

You can’t teach a robot what it is like to have alcoholism or anorexia.


Is a great industry to get into, there are a never ending supply of overweight people, and no digital tools have ever solved the issues around weight control and diets. Also as above, robots don’t understand what it is like to be fat.


As ‘robotic’ as a religious serman in church can be, that job is as protected as vegan food in a hurricane


Advertising is evil. No computer would be able to take that much cocaine in Cannes.

So where are we?

Yeah I got lost a bit, I guess to summarise we are all doomed. I predict a luddite movement will secure many seats in the next government, and most intelligent humans will use a telex to communicate, as they tend to their geese and their alcoholism.



Mat Venn

Designer. Dad. Cyclist. Runner. Flâneur. Autodidact. Piano student. Writer of intelligent balderdash. Fondue enthusiast. Hopeless romantic.