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“The robots are coming! The robots are coming!”

| October 05, 2017
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We do not need the “one if by land, two if by sea” to warn us. Robots are in plain sight; they are not a secret. They are everywhere.

I remember early science fiction stories explaining that robots were good. They help us, protect us, and free us up for intellectual pursuits. Then came HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and an ever increasing list of deranged machines: Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger in “Westworld,” “The Terminator,” VIKI in “I, Robot, “and the ultimate in manipulative technology, “The Matrix.”

Luckily, we are not quite there although IBM’s Watson is close. As with every new leap in technology, there are damaged and discarded humans lying beside the road of progress, flung on the trash heap of efficiency.

Sometimes robots replace other, older less capable robots, and not humans. However, the older robot probably had already replaced a human.

Robots permeate many industries and everyday activities and we hardly notice. Here are just a few examples.

1. Self-checkout lines

Sure, the technology is maddening when there is a glitch. The introduction of UPC scanners at checkouts created many problems. Now they are ubiquitous. One human can monitor at least eight self-checkout machines.

(Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto, for doing the jobs that nobody wants!)

(Hmm . . . One human at $15/hour or 8 humans at $10/hour?)

It is a no-brainer.

2. Self-ordering kiosks

I admit the first time I ordered a Mickey Dees at a kiosk it was a little confusing but I quickly got the hang of it. The kiosk is easy to use and you can modify your order in a hundred ways.

(Hold the pickle, hold the onions, can I get a bag of Funyuns?)

You can definitely get it your way with no misunderstandings.

3. Warehouse workers/stocking shelves

For example, in Amazon warehouses, many packages are handled not by people, but by robots. Indeed, from the 2015 to the 2016 holiday seasons, Amazon upped its fleet of robots by 50% to roughly 45,000 robots in 20 fulfillment centers. This robot army makes Amazon’s operations more efficient and less human intensive. What used to take an hour or more now might take 15 minutes.

These are entry-level jobs—the ones that the $15.00 minimum wage movement is targeting. What about work that is more cerebral?

4. IBM’s Watson

Sherlock had a Watson. (Elementary, my dear Watson.) So did Alexander Graham Bell. (Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!) Now you, too, can have a Watson to keep Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Bixby company.

Watson has unlimited capabilities, theoretically. He, not it, is the next step. AI or Artificial Intelligence. Not human intelligence (which some think is an oxymoron) by any stretch. You would not want something that thinks as fast as Watson acting emotional, irrational, and impulsive. However, I believe IBM will need to create a Wilma if they want to keep Watson in line!

There are literally hundreds more: ATMs, Soldiers, Bomb Squad, Farming, Pharmacist, Housekeeping, and on and on. There are even Robo-financial advisors. I will cover them in another post.

“The problem’s plain to see, too much technology.

Machines to save our lives, Machines de-humanize.”  

See the video:

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