My first stop was a human bank teller, since I needed more cash than the ATM would dispense. At the airport, two women slapped a label onto my suitcase and placed it on a conveyer belt. Then I went to security, where agents checked my ID and scanned my backpack as it went through an X-ray machine. At the gate, I read earnings reports and other financial news.
When I arrived at my hotel, a receptionist checked my ID and issued me two key cards. In my room, I realized that I'd forgotten to bring toothpaste, so I called the operator, who connected me to housekeeping, which dispatched someone with a tube to my room.
None of these jobs done by intermediaries will exist in 15 years. Intermediaries will be replaced by what I call "automators," or smart machines that work more efficiently than us humans, an Industrial Evolution that will affect not just manufacturing but service industries as well.
Machines are almost always cheaper than people. Staffing expenses account for 65 percent of a typical big bank's costs. Automators, combined with our decreasing reliance on physical cash, will soon mean the end of bank branches as we know them. "There are hundreds of startups with a lot of brains and money working on various alternatives to traditional banking," wrote JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in his 2015 annual letter.
Automators--not journalists--wrote the news story I read at the gate, since smart algorithms can build a narrative out of structured financial data. Many human-sounding stories I regularly read are actually written by Automated Insights' Wordsmith, Narrative Science's Quill, or another robo-writer.
Licenses and other ID cards, now checked by humans, will soon be replaced by biometric data scanners. SkullConduct is an ID system that measures bone conduction in--you guessed it--our skulls. And each of us has a unique network of facial capillaries that will soon be used to produce thermal faceprints that, unlike fingerprints and passwords, are difficult to fake or hack.
X-ray machines still require human readers, though in 2015, screeners failed to identify banned items 95 percent of the time during undercover Homeland Security tests. New systems, such as Halo, have materials-recognition abilities that automatically detect such items. They don't need humans--distracted by chatter, boredom, hunger, and daydreams--to know what's in our bags, down to the chemical makeup of a gel or liquid.
Some airlines, including Southwest, are testing self-tagging. Passengers enter information at a self-serve kiosk and get boarding passes and those long luggage tags to affix to their bags. Hilton and Starwoods hotels are transitioning to mobile apps that double as digital keys. Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, the Savioke Relay--a smart robot on wheels--boards elevators and navigates hallways to deliver towels and other amenities. Guests can stay the night without ever interacting with a staff member.
Many banking, transportation, and hospitality jobs will be disrupted out of existence. But there are opportunities for entrepreneurs in this burgeoning automation gold rush--and for those who figure out how to redirect the skills of the displaced workers.
Just not yet. Machines are very good at following directions, but today they don't handle abnormalities well. At LaGuardia Airport, I realized my plane ticket and hotel were booked under my maiden name, which is no longer on my ID or credit cards. The frustrating error, caused by a database glitch, was one that only a human could resolve. For now, at least.