Where are we going, Amazon Go?

My coworkers and friends won’t stop talking about Amazon Go – how fast it is (once you justify the insanity of standing in line to get into the store), how easy it is (you don’t have to checkout or pay for anything, just grab and go), how wonderfully anti-social it is (you don’t have to make inconvenient eye contact with the old lady or the disabled guy at the till).

It bothers me.
It bothers me deeply.

Because I know the hype and excitement is dangerously true and sticky.  I know 10 years from now all grocery stores will be just like Amazon Go. Efficient models override inefficient ones, at least in a marginally “free” market. This efficiency can be passed on as savings to customers and profits to shareholders. It makes logical sense to follow this path paved by measurable positive impact on business and customer – the two Gods we worship in our corporate lives.

It angers me to hear my fellow hyper liberal braniac techsters talk about the progressive arc of our evolution. Mona, you’re over-reacting – of course there will be some “displacement” but new opportunities will be created and it’ll all work out in the end. Displacement. What a sterilized word to use when referencing people losing their jobs, their homes, and their self respect. It’s so convenient to hold this opinion as we buy $9 pasture raised eggs, obsess about personal growth and extoll the benefits of almond milk, antioxidants, LSD and charcoal.

The argument that it’ll all work itself out is the most lethargic reincarnation of trickle down economics I’ve ever encountered. We pride ourselves on being data oriented, having SMART (puke) goals. We obsess about measuring everything from quarterly goals to customer conversion to the hours of REM sleep we got to the % of fat in our butts. Yet when it comes to  examining the impact of our work on the community we exist in, somehow irrational optimism is more than sufficient.

Here’s the thing – I grew up in love with Ayn Rand. I still love her. My idealism for capitalism remains intact despite the disturbing trend of unchecked greed. I believe that once a human is satiated (though some of us seem to be infinitely gluttonous), she will become wise and create organizations, corporations that are as enlightened as she is. She will produce tremendous value in the world through her corporation and do it with complete freedom, and she will know the value of benefitting her community, her employees and her environment. She will truly know that ultimately we are all hopelessly entangled with one another, no matter how averse we are to making eye contact with a stranger when we buy eggs.

I envision 21st century corporations with triple bottom lines – to serve the shareholder, to serve society, to serve the environment. The same instruments at play with the one bottom line we all know and understand well, should be applied to the other two. Metrics, goals, ruthless prioritization, tradeoffs, and most importantly RESULTS.

We have enough compute and data collection to turn all our advances in machine learning and AI to model and predict social impact – it won’t be perfect, but it will be directionally more correct than “it’ll work itself out”. We have measures of carbon emissions and the same thought process can be applied to other aspects of environmental impact. Again, the measurements won’t be perfect but 1000x better than current state.

Governments are an old construct. They will die out just like manned grocery stores. Corporations are the new governments and the singular pursuit of the profit bottom line no longer passes the sniff test. So let’s ask our places of employment to go beyond philanthropy and the occasional gesture of courage and truly make the environment, and social impact the counter balancing bottom lines that each one of us is measured by and rewarded on.

In our mad rush to go wherever innovation takes us, let’s not forget to bring others with us. Let’s not arrive and only then realize that hopes, wishes and prayers don’t pave the path for progress for everyone; REAL plans, REAL goals, REAL results do.

 

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