It’s the not-too-distant future. Walking, talking androids have become an integral part of our daily lives. They cook and clean for us, walk our dogs, pick up our groceries, watch our children.
This is the introductory plot to countless sci-fi books and movies. You know, right before the robots rise up from their oppressive slave masters and destroy humanity as we know it. But we all know this would never actually happen, right? Well I’ve been thinking lately that while a robot-uprising seems unlikely, we may not be so far away from having robots do everything for us and it may not give us the (initially) idyllic life science fiction presents.
I was watching the evening news and discussing the state of our region’s economy with my boyfriend, Ben. We spoke about the high unemployment rate in our little patch of regional Victoria and how it could be improved. “Opening a new factory perhaps?” I suggested. “But then you’d only need to employ a few people to run it, the majority would be done by machines,” Ben countered.
I couldn’t argue with this. Of course innovation and advancing technology has seen machinery/robots increasingly replace humans in factories for hundreds of years. But it just occurred to me that no one’s job is safe from automation.
Take my job for example. I’m a waitress. I take orders and I deliver food and drink. I also do a lot of other little tasks, but essentially those two jobs are my purpose for employment. If a robot could do that instead… well I’d be redundant.
Enter McDonald’s’ new “Create Your Taste” concept, where customers use a touch screen to design their own unique burger that is then cooked and served to them by Maccas staff. Now what if cafes and restaurants, such as the one I work in, introduced a similar concept? I already use an iPad equipped with software linked to the bar and kitchen to take orders. The next logical step is giving that iPad/tablet directly to the customer. They could use Paypass to tap their credit/debit card, so payment could be automatic, and use the touch screen to pick what they’d like. There would need to be a more user-friendly interface then the one I currently use, but I don’t think customers would mind ordering off an iPad. Especially if it meant they could choose their dishes as soon as they were ready to order and didn’t have to wait until I or one of my colleagues came by.
Getting the food and drinks to the customers requires a bit more advancement in technology, but not that much. A robot, similar to a Roomba floor cleaner, could have a tray loaded with food from the kitchen or drinks from the bar and use sensors to transport them to the customers. I admit, I haven’t studied robotics, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest you could program a robot to travel to specific points on remote command. But what about my friendly personality and that waitress-to-customer interaction? Surely people would miss that? Well yes, maybe. However, if the restaurant hired one hostess to greet customers, show them to their tables and handle any mistakes, people would be comforted to know there’s an actual person taking care of them, while enjoying uninterrupted conversation with the friends and family they’re dining with.
To customers of the first restaurant to introduce this system, it would be a bit of gimmick of course, but like pulled pork and slaw, Nutella donuts and superfoods, the trend would eventually catch on… until you could no longer visit a venue that didn’t have robot waitresses in place of people.
And the more I thought about it, the more services I came up with that could be “improved” with the removal of human error. Doctors, gardeners, hairdressers and (sooner, rather than later, I think) salespeople could all be redundant professionals of a simpler time.
I’m not an alarmist (despite what the title of this post suggests) and I’m not saying anything can be done to stop this all-engulfing wave of technologic advancement. I just think it’s interesting to think about.
What about your job? Do you think you could be replaced by a robot?