Automation, success or failure?

February 17, 2009 / Critical reasoning skillz must be practiced in order to stay razor sharp.

According to Wikipedia, automation is good:

Automation (ancient Greek: = self dictated), roboticization or industrial automation or numerical control is the use of control systems such as computers to control industrial machinery and processes, reducing the need for human intervention.[1] In the scope of industrialization, automation is a step beyond mechanization. Whereas mechanization provided human operators with machinery to assist them with the physical requirements of work, automation greatly reduces the need for human sensory and mental requirements as well. Processes and systems can also be automated.

I’m not willing to write it off, but I’m not as satisfied as the authors of this article. I tested the hypothesis that some things don’t work correctly because they are badly designed. The following data are based on anecdotal experience collected retrospectively over time.

Automation Performance of Selected Things
Contrivance Value of Automation % Works as Intended Score
Soap dispenser low 0% fail
Paper towel dispenser moderate 3% fail
Warm air hand dryer moderate 97% pass
Urinal moderate 90% pass
Door high 99% pass
Teller high 99% pass
Customer service representative low 1% fail
Garage door high 85% pass
Automobile transmission moderate 92% pass
Coffee machine low 62% fail

As you can see from the numbers, automation is slightly better than no automation, but it’s not as clear cut as you would think. When automatic devices fail the consequences can be worse than being forced to use a manual alternative. This is especially true for bathrooms and customer service. When it comes to doors we are clearly better off.

That’s the thing about Wikipedia. You have to think about everything you read on it.

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