Why Tokyo is a Guidebook for Automation

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People in Tokyo enjoy immediate service 24/7 for many products due to an overabundance of vending machines.

Here’s something that I’ve been saying a lot lately: Automation is accelerating at a rapid rate, and we have nothing to fear from that.

Mostly I’ve been talking about drones and AI, but while those are equal parts new, shiny, and cool, let’s not leave out the venerated tech that has served us for decades or more. Robots might be coming for your jobs, but it’s not as bad as you might think.

I’m talking about things that have had to advance relatively little in the last few years; things like toasters, treadmills, and of course, vending machines.

They may be old tech, but they replace some things that may be unavailable, like a hot fired oven, or an Olympic sized track, or a candy bar, and never once did we concern ourselves over whether bakers, athletes, or confectioners were being put out of business.

The vending machines, in particular, are pretty special in my opinion because they allow sales without the need for labor (outside of distribution), improving the business of snack and soda-makers worldwide.

Case in point, take a look at Tokyo, Japan (courtesy of the video provided to us by Vox above), where vending machines are filling a gap left in the wake of population-related woes that the country has been battling in recent years. They may be old tech, but they make a very big statement for the up and coming new world that we are building.

Why does Tokyo Have so Many Vending Machines?

So why does Tokyo have an insane 1 to 23 vending machines to person ratio?

The short answer is simple: Tokyo has so many vending machines because they need them.

Or, more accurately, “Japan is an aging nation with expensive labor, a love for robots and too many coins in its pocket,” said Johnny of the video above.

The long answer? Well, that takes a minute to unpack, but it makes for an interesting conversation nonetheless. Let’s start with their population woes, because there but for the grace of your choice of god (or none of the above) goes the fate of any nation.

For starters, the average age in Japan is around 46 years old, which is quite a lot higher than the 38-years-old average of the United States.

This means that low-skilled labor is going to be in short supply, so Japanese establishments have an incentive to find a substitute for its clerks, hosts (which means something entirely different in Japan), and waitstaff.

Combine that with a very low fertility rate and you have a declining population.

That low-skilled labor isn’t going to be coming around anytime soon.

That being said, a declining population and a high average age doesn’t preclude their being work-ready teenagers, but those may find easier work practicing handmade crafts and foods, something that is still something of a staple in Japanese culture.

Let’s move on to the robots, the future rulers of the world (if and when Skynet becomes self aware).

There is 1 vending machine for every 23 people in Tokyo.Click To Tweet

Japanese society has long been fascinated with automation and robotics, from the real to the imagined (giant mecha anime, we’re looking at you). The country has long been known as a technology-forward nation, meaning they have the skills, materials, and sheer willpower to make their robotic dreams a reality. Considering all of that, is it any wonder that they would look toward automation to fill the gaps left by their population problems?

Finally, and I find this curious but I won’t spend too much time on it as it is the least tech-related reason of the bunch, we have the heavy burden on Japanese pockets that is their excess of coins.

Japan has paper money, sure, but they use a ton of coins. While they may stop at a fraction of a dollar in the U.S. when it comes to most of their coins, the Japanese have coins that value as much as about $5 USD. Considering that, vending machines are an elegant solution to the excess of coins that are in circulation in Tokyo.

A new Face for Automation

Tokyo’s vending machines make an important statement for those who hold trepidation about the future of automation and robotics. They aren’t going to make gaps in society, they will fill them as needed.

That being said, some jobs will be lost. That’s inevitable.

But for every door that closes, new doors are opening. Whether you are stepping forward and learning how to program or maintain robotic factory workers, or are stepping back and learning how to make a product by hand to give it that old-fashioned feel, the future has your back.

My opinion: If you want job security, a degree in a STEM field will be extremely helpful, and so will IT certifications.

Just remember, while those jobs may be in demand, they won’t be the only things out there, and mark my words, there will be plenty of opportunity for anyone willing to take hold of it.

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