A burger flipping robot has started its first shift at work in a burger chain in California. For some it’s a great advancement, a step forward in robotics. For others…. well, it could be a portent of things to come.
First off, this burger flipping robot is not perfect and does make mistakes. This is something that the owners are willing to accept because “hey, if you spent your day flipping burgers you’d make mistakes too….” – which is not exactly what I want from any robot I come into contact with. Think of Hal9000 with a spatula rather than an airlock.
A robot is programmed to fulfil a task, if it fails to complete that task then is it really any more effective than a human? Cost-wise it’s probably cheaper (which is where this post is going) with an initial outlay of $60k then $12k a year to run. Ignoring any rogue spatula based catastrophes that require compensation to an unsuspected but perfectly grilled passing human, these robots are cheaper and less problematic to operate than a human burger flipper.
How? Currently, minimum wage in California is $10.50 per hour which works out at just over $20k per year (rising to $15 in 2022 – $29,250pa). Financially these robots will pay for themselves in less than three years because they don’t need holidays, aren’t entitled to workers comp, or any of the other associated costs to businesses that pesky employees attract.
Which brings us to the point of this post. For every menial, mindless, monotonous, boring job out there: the only reason a human does it is because there’s not currently an cheaper way for a robot to do it. While I 100% back increases in wages to keep up with the cost of living, on the flip side we’re also encouraging employers to mitigate those pay rises. No company enjoys paying wages and as is seen practically everywhere profits go to shareholders instead of investing in people.
The makers of robots and futurists say that while jobs will be lost to robots, other jobs will be created to replace them. However, you only have to look at the industrial revolution to see that with mechanisation came unemployment for skilled workers – as their jobs were replaced by steam powered mills and engines. People left the countryside for the cities in search of work, and many only found the workhouses. In more modern times here in the UK the shipyards, the steel mills, the coal mines have closed with thousands of people made unemployed and unable to find replacement employment.
There will come a time when practically every job will be done by a robot (unless we blow the planet up first), and I’m hard pressed to come up with anything that we can do that feasibly a robot could not. Although hopefully, in the future, we’ll be more “there are failsafes in place to prevent accidents” rather than “yeah, it makes mistakes sometimes”.
Hopefully robots will do all the jobs humans don’t want to do and we can do the interesting things that will motivate us and make us all happy. We’ll all live in peace and contentment and everyone will have whatever they want.
Nah, that won’t happen! I for one welcome our robot overlords!
It’d be great if we could use an army of robots to do all the tedious horrible jobs that no one really wants to do, but like you, I highly doubt that those put of a job would then turn to a life dedicated to the humanities and the betterment of all people. It reminds me of a story from 2000AD in the 80’s where there was a revolt against robots doing menial jobs (although it was probably more of an analogy to the general resentment against cheap labour). There was also another subculture of “Wheelies” – people who became so fat through inactivity that they needed a wheeled support under their ample flabby bits to get around. The latter I believe had a hierarchy that meant the more wheels you needed the more vaunted you became.
As for our robot overlords….. I’m glad you mentioned it because I tried so hard not to use that quote 😀
Two things you’d find interesting:
1. Exactly half way through Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke is a description of the “perfect world” brought about by automation. I found it online here. In this story it’s aliens who introduce it and I don’t want any spoilers because I’m just beyond that bit (but I did see the TV series, can’t remember it, and I keep thinking, I’ve read this before, so maybe I read it years ago..)
2. Kill Command on Netflix has an AI that learns. It’s not a great movie, but the motivation of the robot soldiers was blood thirsty and merciless ..
Well, it turns out the flipping robot is not as flipping good as they made out. I may be cynical but maybe it’s a bit of a publicity stunt for the robotics company? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-43343956