All this automation puts humanity on hold

Where have all the humans gone, Liz Breslin wonders.

Press one if you would like a diatribe about the pitfalls of technology. Press two to delve further into the rabbit warrens of automated systems. Press three for some anodyne holding music, press four, press more.

Your call is important to us, please continue to hold. All calls may be recorded for quality control. (Please enjoy listening to Greensleeves or similar while you wait.)

When you eventually do get to speak to a human being, they may or may not be able to help you by reading out the very text on the very page of the very website you were puzzling over when you picked up the phone in the first place.

It is not their fault that they don't have the answer any more than you do, or that you can't really hear and understand each other. It's not anyone's fault. It's the system.

It's the system that says it's way more efficient for you to do your shopping by beeping things though an automated box, looking up your vegetables alphabetically, tapping in quantity numbers.

You will be watched by a series of cameras and someone swinging the lanyard of authority, ready to lean in and verify that you are over 25, to erase mistaken double bleeps or help you manage the insistent call to action of please place the item in the bagging area, please place the item in the bagging area, please place the item in the bagging area.

The lanyard-swinger doesn't make eye contact, but that hardly matters when you can be managing your internet banking or your social life with a swipe of the fingers on your free hand. Or asking Siri what you should cook or where to go to eat.

You can look forward to the day when there will be a mechanical packer for your supermarket goods, which will be transported to your car by a thing.

And never mind hands-free dialling. You won't even need to drive, so you can maybe get in some yoga stretches on the way home.

Come to think of it, why even leave the house to shop? The future is already here.

Hotels in Japan run entirely by robotic components, mechanical burger-flippers that put together a quarter-pounder in 10 seconds.

Milking machines that let you lie in. The rise of unpeopled efficiency.

We're losing ourselves in its wake.

The people who groom the most awesomest online social profiles who can't even bear to pick up a phone because the content can't be controlled.

The recent rise of tattooing so we can check we're human. If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Recent research from Oxford University shows that in the next 20 years, nearly half of all jobs in the US of A could become fully automated. Ten million jobs in the UK could go the same way.

The researchers doubtless had good systems to crunch those figures. So much you can do with algorithms. So efficient for all our lives.

There will be time to spend on self-improvement and entrepreneurial activity. Without the drag of menial interactions we'll be able to concentrate on meaningfully closing gaps in knowledge and inequality. Of course we will.

Except there's nothing that bridges a gap like conversation, or even a shared look, or a shrug.

And there's no room in the onward onslaught of outsource to ponder the immeasurable wellbeing of slowing down your vehicle, unwinding the window manually, leaning out and chatting about nothing with a neighbour until another car comes up the gravel road behind you and it's time to get a nudge on with your day.

• Liz Breslin wrote most of this column while listening to nice soothing automated music and waiting to talk to a real person.

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