The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


December 6, 2013

Other Views: Price of progress

— The one thing we can be assured of in today’s economy is that technology is continuing to change the workplace. Three news items this week perhaps give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.

• Amazon revealed plans to create a delivery force of unmanned drones.

• Applebee’s, the nation’s largest casual dining chain, announced it will put tablets at every table in its restaurants, at which customers will place orders, pay their bills and even (for a price) play games.

• Microsoft has developed a prototype bra that monitors its wearer’s vital signs and alerts her when she is “stress eating.”

Of the three, only the restaurant tablets are a here-and-now thing. Both Applebee’s and Chili’s have been testing the concept, and the early returns apparently find that the tablets are driving up the sales of appetizers and desserts.

Applebee’s says it won’t reduce wait staff as a result of the tablets, and for now diners will still order their entrees through living, breathing humans, but it is presumably a matter of time before the tablets take control of the full ordering process, and the servers who remain will be limited to carrying plates.

Sunday’s “60 Minutes” story on Amazon and its scheme for an army of drone deliverers touched off a social media sensation, with the public considering the idea that the same technology used to deliver warheads to shacks in the Pakistani hinterlands might soon be used to deliver a pair of slacks to your house.

We speculate over such details as: Will the drone just drop the box on your doorstep or ring your doorbell? Will it buzz your apartment for admission and ride up the elevator?

And will the prospect of downing a drone and claiming its package become a new form of hunting?

Such details await larger ones, in particular the need for the Federal Aviation Administration to figure out how to split American airspace safely between the unmanned craft and other planes. Drone technology, which has been the province of national security and defense, is knocking on the door for domestic use. That Amazon is contemplating it as a way to bypass existing delivery vendors should be no real surprise.

Then there’s the Microsoft smart bra, detailed in a research paper, which monitors heart rate, respiration, skin conductance and movement and can communicate the information to a smartphone app.

At this point the device’s battery has just four hours of life, so the bra isn’t all that practical.

Still, one imagines a future in which one goes to a restaurant and orders the mozzarella sticks on a tablet. The drone waiter delivers the high-fat food, whereupon the diner’s garments rebel and tell the tablet to countermand the order, whereupon the drone returns and snatches the plate away.

This is progress, we suppose. At least we won’t feel obligated to tip the server.

 —The Mankato (Minn.) Free Press

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