pjc50 7 months ago

The lady with the iPad is in a rather tragic position as an output device for the system.

The "BAMF" booking agent however has a very important role in the API which isn't spelled out here: authentication. He's basically the sudo interface, with the power to rewrite flights at will. And for whatever reason our narrator has the right kind of speaking-to-manager powers to use him as the sudo interface.

Every bulk customer service process has its "exceptions", and this is clearly one of them. The role of humans is to understand the exception and turn it into pieces which the API will accept, either through the normal interface or the sudo interface.

See also http://www.harrowell.org.uk/blog/category/callcentre/ - it's a short series, start at the bottom.

" Asymmetric legibility characterises call centres, and it’s dreadful. Within, management tries to maintain a panopticon glare at the staff. Without, the user faces an unmapped territory, in which the paths are deliberately obscure, and the details the centre holds on you are kept secret. Call centres know a lot about you, but won’t say; their managers endlessly spy on the galley slaves; you’re not allowed to know how the system works.


Inappropriate automation and human/machine confusion bedevil call centres. If you could solve your problem by filling in a web form, you probably would have done. The fact you’re in the queue is evidence that your request is complicated, that something has gone wrong, or generally that human intervention is required."

  • paultopia 7 months ago

    Hah, this is wise... and this whole conversation is evidence that tech does need the humanities, as many of these problems could be helped if more engineers spent more time reading Kafka...

    • TeMPOraL 7 months ago

      Call centres are not a creation of engineers, but of suits - exploiting people on both ends of the phone to profit for themselves. Getting engineers to read works of Kafka won't do anything to solve this problem.

    • satyap 7 months ago

      Stop blaming engineers for stupid policies. Engineers usually have no say, this is almost always thought up by some manager or PM somewhere.

toyg 7 months ago

The "above/below API" metaphore is a good update for the description of a process affecting most jobs ever since the industrial revolution happened. The API of yesterday was the production line, where you are the one designing/paying for/maintaining the line, or you do what the line needs you to do. We notice a difference simply because the new production line is computerized, so this dynamic now applies to "intellectual" jobs as well - but it's just another form of mechanization.

A lot of books from the '60s and '70s (and before) are worth re-reading, they've exhamined this scenario extensively, back then.

sixdimensional 7 months ago

I've been pondering the theory that economic activity is a sort of glue that keeps humans occupied, and that humans being occupied is generally better than humans being unoccupied.

For example, there are theories that posit that economic activity and global trade prevent war due to the dependencies that those processes create - you can't destroy those you are dependent on without destroying yourself. However, it's equally easy to slip into chaos when those processes are manipulated or corrupted - see present day.

Perhaps what we are really seeing here is that the underlying forces that control life have not changed at all. Survival, competition, environmental change, adaptability, intelligence and evolution - if you believe in those concepts - are still the root forces driving everything.

What we have now are many layers of abstractions on top of the underlying forces. Literally in the term API is "interface" implying the abstraction on what could be either a human or machine process. Even machines compete for resources, since they have plenty of requirements to continue functioning - although they have different capabilities that go far beyond human abilities, and other areas where they lack the abilities humans have.

Economic activity is yet another type of abstraction designed to, hopefully, ensure the survival of a majority - although that too is an arguable point I'm sure.

I really enjoyed reading the article - this is mixing social science/humanities with IT/IS - a favorite topic.

I personally believe that man and machine are both of nature (a strong opinion, but quite debatable I'm sure). As such, we should be able to describe our relationship in terms of natural relationships - for example, parasitic, symbiotic, etc. This "above and below" the API and involvement of humans in those activities seems to imply something similar.

Thanks for sharing!

  • tareqak 7 months ago

    I don't think it's simply a binary occupied vs. unoccupied. If you are overworked (too occupied), then there are one set of potential problems (e.g. negative impacts on physical and mental health). If you are unemployed (too unoccupied), then your economic opportunities might be limited. Scaling either situation across many, many human beings results in negative social consequences of one form or another.

chaimedes 7 months ago

I totally agree with this article, except:

"That’s what tax preparers are – they use the exact same software that anyone can use at home, but they allow you to talk to a human instead of learning the software"

IMHO this is one of those edge cases where software might simplify the process 99 times out of 100, but a skilled/experienced human may help avoid uncommon but costly mistakes. There is enough nuance and vagueness in taxes that it pays to have a human look over your numbers -- even if they use software to do it.

  • toyg 7 months ago

    Taxes cannot be completely automated because they are laws. Laws are expressed in language, and language is not exact - even our own understanding of such language will change through the years, as any constitutional scholar can attest.

  • dave_aiello 7 months ago

    The biggest reason to use a tax professional in the USA is that it's their job to know what a reasonable amount of expense is against a certain amount of income where withholding taxes aren't taken out.

ajeet_dhaliwal 7 months ago

The lady with the iPad situation sort of happened to me at McDonalds yesterday. I ordered from their touch screen. Their system told me to come up to collect my food but when I got there the person working asked me if I was different order number, i said no and she told me to stand away, I told her the system has told me to come up and I had not even finished speaking before her colleague handed me my order.

js8 7 months ago

From the comments:

"Mcdonalds around the world with those touchscreen ordering kiosks as well as live staff – the live staff are just essentially operating the touchscreen for you behind the counter."

They are not. I always use live staff because I cannot order no ice in the drink from the touchscreen.

  • jessaustin 7 months ago

    Every McD's I've seen in the last decade has forced the customer to pour her own drink? The one closest to me right now just leaves stacks of cups next to the touchscreens, presumably relying on a combination of the honor system and hidden cameras to catch soda thieves.

    It's funny to think back to when I was a kid and Burger King was the first to innovate pouring one's own drink. They discovered they could save more by firing the drink-pourer than they spent by allowing customers to refill their cup. As kids, we just enjoyed the opportunity to mix up some suicides...

Lord_Zero 7 months ago

Paul, the Left Hand's Milk Stout is one of my favorite beers. You were meant to try that beer that day.

Ftuuky 7 months ago

That link name is probably the reason why corporate proxy blocked it.

dave_aiello 7 months ago

This article is really funny.

I wrote the API for https://RinkAtlas.com, as well as everything else that is RinkAtlas. So I thought, based solely on the title, that the article might apply to me.

It doesn't really apply to me, since I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and drive my car nearly everywhere I need to go.

But the references to airlines and airports are ancillary to the points he's making about jobs in this world economy in 2018.

  • Rjevski 7 months ago

    Almost every single comment you've posted so far mentions your website. While it's great that you're proud of your creation, it is not a valid reason to pitch it especially when it's completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    • dave_aiello 7 months ago

      OK, thanks. If you feel that way, probably others do as well. I'd delete that comment if I could.