Episode 2: How Is the Pandemic Changing the Race to Automate?

Episode 2: How Is the Pandemic Changing the Race to Automate?


All of a sudden, front line workers are being treated as the heroes of this pandemic and that is only fair. Bus drivers, grocery workers, cleaners, meat plant employees – all of these people jobs that need doing and they put themselves at risk in the process. In acknowledgement of that, many employers are boosting their pay and bonuses in a bid to reward them for what they are doing and indeed to make sure they stay on the job. Longer term, however, the result of the pandemic may be that these same workers do not get paid at all, but rather get pink slips. After all, even before the pandemic there was a push to use automation more effectively and perhaps to replace some job functions in the process. That surely could have some huge positives, in that it could safeguard human beings from tasks that are likely to put them in danger. The downside of this, however, could be a spike in unemployment and a long-term fall in wages for the replaced workers.

To talk about where we are in the automation process, on this episode of Work and the Future we are joined by two guests with different areas of expertise. Steven Keith Platt is a Retail Consultant and a Professor at Northwestern University, and he talks about some of the undeniably cool things that are going on in the retail sector, and specifically in grocery stores as regards automation. We are also joined by Julie Carpenter, who is a ‘roboticist’ and a Research Fellow at California Polytechnic State University. Julie’s job involves thinking about humans and robots will work together, which is a particularly complicated question as the quest to automate intensifies.



Steven Keith Platt

Director and Research Fellow at the Platt Retail Institute (PRI) and

Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University

Steven Keith Platt is Director and Research Fellow at the Platt Retail Institute (PRI). He is an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University and serves as the Research Director at the Retail Analytics Council (RAC), an initiative between Northwestern University and PRI.

Steven received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance and Marketing from the Boston University School of Management.  He also has a Law Degree and an LL.M. in Taxation from Boston University, where he served as Articles Editor for the University’s Journal of Tax Law. He has authored many studies about retail analytics and digital communication networks, and has published articles in journals including the American Bankers Association Journal, Digital Signage Quarterly, Extended Retail Solutions, Retail Information Systems News, the Retail Solutions Providers Association Magazine, and the Retail Navigator, among many others. He has been quoted in publications including Bloomberg, Business Week, Chain Store Age, the Chicago Tribune, CNN Business, DSN Retailing Today, Inc. Magazine, RFID Journal, Stores Magazine, the San Jose Mercury News, Time Magazine, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal. He has also appeared as a guest analyst on the CBS Evening News and Early Show, and ABC World News. He has also lectured at conferences around the globe.


Julie Carpenter, Phd

Research Fellow, Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group, California Polytechnic State University

Julie Carpenter, PhD, is a research scientist based in San Francisco and a Research Fellow in California Polytechnic State University’s Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group, a non-partisan organization focused on the risk, ethical, and social impact of emerging sciences and technologies.

Her research situates human-technology experiences within their larger cultural contexts and social systems to offer a framework for describing what phenomena are occurring and explain how peoples’ expectations, behaviors, and ideas adapt and change over time as they work and live with new technologies. In her work, Carpenter typically uses ethnographic research methods to explore sociocultural influences on human behaviors that inform topics such as trust, decision-making, and emotional attachment to artificial systems.  Visit jgcarpenter.com to learn more about Dr. Carpenter’s writings and research or follow her on Twitter @jgcarpenter.




See some of Steven Keith Platt’s work here

Publications & Videos


You can learn more about Julie Carpenter’s work at isit jgcarpenter.com or follow her on Twitter @jgcarpenter


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