Voice Picking

This is right in the intersection of Supply Chain and Artificial Intelligence.

One of the most common processes within Supply Chain is warehouse management, which includes a variety of tasks, like receiving, shipping, picking, kitting, and others. There are multiple companies which have developed warehouse management solutions that are voice enabled. That is, instead of generating paper forms for the warehouse workers, or displaying data in some type of electronic device, these systems transmit orders to workers using a voice interface. And this is already bringing cost savings to warehouses. See for example this.

And why is this relevant, you may ask? There are already automated warehouses, run mostly by robots. The voice enabled software reminds me of a short story by Marshall Brain, of HowStuffWorks fame. In this dystopian story, a voice enabled software program manages a small restaurant. Initially replacing a few human jobs, but eventually becoming an overarching artificial intelligence that leaves most of the planet unemployed and unemployable. You should read it.

Over the last few months we have been hearing a lot about self-driving cars and trucks. The job of a taxi driver is on the way to becoming automated. I think one key is that there is already a system which provides the navigation, the knowledge of the world. In some way the phone does the part of the job that requires intelligence, which is understanding the environment and finding an optimal route. While the human does something that doesn’t require a lot of intelligence, at least for a human, which is driving. The voice picking systems are similar in the sense that the smart actions (determining the optimal route in the warehouse, what to pick and where to take it) are implemented in software, and the more menial work is done by a human.

Unfortunately for many, this seems to be a trend that is here to stay. I suspect over the course of the next few years we will see more and more of these systems. And at some point robotics will reach a point of maturity where the entire job can be automated.

Written on November 11, 2016