Robots Are Opening More Than One Can Of Worms

A noontime ABC report recently featured a brief story on how a very popular pizza chain was starting to use robots to make, bake, and box its circular grain, cheese, and tomato products. The manager of the pilot location claimed that, “this is a great thing, a step forward. It will free up employees to do other tasks.” It’s not too vague to realize that the first of those new tasks is to apply for unemployment, the second being find a new job before the unemployment runs out.

Pizza-making robot, to see Bruno the pizzabot in action, CLICK HERE

Of course it’s only appropriate that a machine-made pizza be delivered by a machine, i.e., a driverless vehicle, drone, etc. In turn, this frees up drivers to do other things, like apply for unemployment and buy lottery tickets. Nevertheless, that’s progress, and progress in inevitable.

One thing you rarely hear in these techno vignettes is a discussion about what to do with the displaced humans who lose their jobs to robots. In the pizza story, the biggest concern is will the robot assembled pizza taste as good as the human made equivalent. That discussion should last three seconds at most. If the ingredients are of the same quality each time a pizza is assembled, the robot version will be the most consistent because the robot will come as close as possible to making the final product the same every time. So ends that part of the diatribe.

Robot takeovers have been the jolly fodder of many a sci-fi movie. A typical scenario is robots take over job “whatever”, they perform job “whatever” well for a while, humans suffer a bit, the robots eventually fail in some way at performing job “whatever”, and humans rise like a Phoenix in “whatever” fashion. However, in reality, this will not be the case. Robots will work, they will work well, and certain jobs will become obsolete for humans. But this diatribe does not end.

Humans have always been resilient in the face of change. Since the invention of the wheel until now, when certain avenues of employment evaporated, new ones popped up and education moved people into those jobs. A classic example is the guidance counselors who make an appearance in one’s senior year of high school. These mentors inform graduating students what subjects are best to major in when attending college to become employable after graduating from university. The result is usually a workforce that has no passion for its professions, but knows how to perform its tasks semi competently, which is enough to make a comfortable living, maybe a bit more.

When you add things up, a few pizza flippers and delivery persons may not have too much impact on technology or society at large. After all, aside from the storeowner, these folks were most likely not aspiring to twirling dough or driving vehicles that smell like cheese for their entire lives. Minimum wage is a stepping stone, not a goal.

On the other hand, author Sandra Helsel, in an October 31, 2016 article, predicts Robots Could Replace 1.7 Million Truckers in Next Decade. Close to two million able-bodied men and women is nothing to blink at, or sneeze at for that matter. And a lot of those truck drivers are passionate about their work, enjoying the lure of land-level travel on the road.

Robots Could Replace 1.7 Million Truckers in Next Decade

It may not prove to be “progress” if 1.7-million able-bodied humans became disgruntled simultaneously. It’s something to think about. ~MD