On Sunday morning, I walked into the Amazon GO Store, picked up a bag of Goldfish Crackers (yes, they’re not just for kids), and walked out. No line, no wait, no need to sift through my purse. With an Amazon account on my phone, I was able to scan myself through the gated entrance. Cameras and sensors detected what I picked up, and when I walked out, my credit card was automatically charged.
That’s usually as far as we go when we recount an experience that’s made our lives easier. It's only when we remove our own shoes that a bigger picture starts to unfold.
As I stood outside the store eating my Goldfish, I thought about these two things:
To improve economic participation, we must consider the impact that technological advancement will have on the displacement or exclusion of the most marginalized populations.
Diversity asks: Who is in the room?
Inclusion asks: Who is trying to get in the room, but can’t? Is everyone able to participate?
Naturally, we are limited by our own knowledge and lived experiences.
It's the easy route to assume that everyone experiences the world the way we do... but that's simply not true. The best place to start uncovering our blind spots and biases is reflecting on our own privilege. Apart from the financial ability to afford my purchase (which is a separate issue altogether), which privileges enabled me to simply walk into the GO Store, take what I wanted, and walk out?
First, I was able to get there. I was able to physically walk through the gates. I had a smartphone and internet data that allowed me to access my account and scan the barcode using my hands to get in. I could see and reach all the items that I wanted, without assistance. And I had a credit card connected to my account, which allowed me to exit the store with my purchase.
So – would everyone be able to experience the awesome benefits of the GO Store in the same way I did?
Did you know that 29% of American households do not have a credit card, and almost 7% do not have a bank account at all. About 20% of Americans do not have a smartphone. These are only a few statistics that highlight an opportunity for us to think about accessibility and inclusion.
Just a few weeks ago, New York City lawmakers voted to require stores and restaurants to accept cash as a form of payment. With more stores only accepting card as payment, this law was intended to create access for all. Amazon recently piloted a cash option at their GO store in New York.
There is a growing fear that robots and machines will take over, and that there will be no jobs left for people to do. If we consider the technology deployed at the GO Store we can see that the need for certain jobs – like the cashier – will begin to decrease. But does that mean most jobs will start disappearing? The answer is, no.
While some jobs may be lost, research overwhelmingly suggests that more jobs will be created with automation. As society advances with technology, there will be an increasing demand for talent across the globe – and this is why we have been hearing about the “War for Talent”.
The problem won’t be job availability. The challenge will be ensuring that there is a significant pool of talent with the right skills to perform the work required.
I was curious about the populations that would be most impacted by the automation of work. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is disproportionately higher representation of marginalized folks (Black, Hispanic, folks with disabilities) working in clerical, customer and food service, production, security, transportation, material moving, and manual labor jobs. The Forbes Technology Council predicts that many of these jobs will be automated by 2030.
With this in mind, it is of mutual interest that companies direct their focus towards re-skilling these populations for the future demands of the workforce. Digital access and literacy (the ability to get online – which not everyone can – and know how to use it to one's benefit) will be a critical component.
I believe the "War for Talent" references a privileged job pool. Statistics show that unemployment rates amongst marginalized populations remain higher than the national average. Instead of scrapping for talent in the same pool – there is an opportunity to reach out to very capable untapped talent sources (formerly incarcerated individuals – like Slack is doing, people of color, those with different abilities, indigenous communities, and newcomers) to fill the gap.
Artificial intelligence will make our lives easier – but it is our collective responsibility to ensure that these technologies work for everyone.
With the rapid speed of change it is important that inclusion and access are brought to the forefront of decision making, so that we can build a society of equitable economic participation without leaving people behind. You can start by actively sourcing, engaging with, elevating, and prioritizing diverse voices in the process.