The Encroaching Robot Revolution
Meeting the Creepy New Employee
I had my first encounter with robots while working a general labor job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer factory back home. A sprawling, multi-leveled edifice full of winding conveyor belts carrying the latest edition of the local newspaper in every direction. For such a big factory, there were never many people in it. By my second day on the job, my coworkers had already dicreetly advised me to slow down. As my job performance would, in their opinion, raise the bar for the rest of them. And being so new to the job, I reluctantly altered my output.
It was while going through my daily duties during my first week on the job that I heard a faint rustling sound down a dimly lit hallway of ink machines. I turned and looked, expecting to see the custodian on his way to the parking lot for his hourly smoke, when I saw it turn the corner. Flat, low to the ground, and heading right for me. Passing under light disappearing into darkness, only to reappear under a closer light source. I guess my boss just assumed we would all inevitably introduce ourselves at the water cooler, because nobody had informed me that 70% of my coworkers weren't even human.
The Perfect Coworker?
For five or six seconds, while my eyes argued with my brain, I pondered the idea of power walking in the opposite direction of the eerie machine, grabbing my coat and hat, and giving my two second notice as I passed the boss's office. But soon it became clear that I was in the presence of a four wheeled robotic employee. This would take some getting used to. Or would it? Had I finally met the perfect coworker? One that doesn't blabber all day about their recent colonoscopy, quote Southpark, or enlighten me on who Beyonce was spotted having fondue with. And had the company finally found their perfect employee? One that doesn't take multiple breaks, vacations, or go on strike. Was this a symbiotic triangle relationship? Or had I just met my potential replacement? Apparently, it had already taken someone else's job. Should I even worry? Some of the greatest robots I knew of weren't perfect. C-3P0, for example, was a hypochondriac who was prone to panic attacks. However, he did have some corporate appeal. He would rat out others to authority, even his closest droid friends. All while kissing Luke Skywalker's butt til the gold rubbed off his face.
But will robots of the future have the capacity for independent and ruthless ambition? Will they someday be able to brown-nose their way to the top? Doubtful. But if they ever gain such capability, we can all eventually kiss our livelihoods goodbye. Then again, are some occupations better off not having any human imput whatsoever? Does the department store greeter really have to be made of flesh and blood? Personally, I've had more genuine greetings from tornado sirens. Should we be so hostile to the robot? Perhaps there are jobs that human beings just weren't made to do. Remember, the wizard of Oz wasn't exactly healthy. Basically, he was an out of shape sociopath who pulled levers all day in a green cubicle. Is it healthy for humans to exist like that?
And its hard not to admire our mechanical competitors. Factory robots with enough stamina to assemble a billion septic tank valves in one hundred degree heat, yet incapable of momentarily sighing and wondering what it would be like to have any kind of social life. Or robotic waiters with enough tolerance to endure countless picky diners who send their dishes back to the kitchen if their bagel has one too many poppy seeds, yet lacking the willfulness to hock a loogy in their early bird special.
But perhaps we humans have been evolving into robots all along, and are currently a mid-breed of cold, reclusive, programmed cyborgs. Some unfortunate humans have had run-ins with the occasional dehumanized robocop on a Mussolini power trip. Equipped with more armor than Tony Stark, yet possessing enough independent judgement to use a taser to fill the bodies of unarmed people with enough voltage to resurrect one hundred Frankenstein monsters. Then there are the occupations that are, for whatever reason, holding strong against the robots, like dish washers or sign holders. The latter, in my opinion, is only still man-operated because most people would be more apt to steal an expensive robot from a street corner than an actual living human.
Then there are those jobs that haven't been totally eliminated, but drastically altered to include robots. Case in point - the garbage man. The jolly old garbage man has now walked the path of the car wash employee. He used to hang on the back of the truck like the secret service on a presidential motorcade. Smiling, joking with his coworkers while lifting everything from cans of trash to old recliners and tossing it into the truck. Well paid and in good shape. Tough work, but back in the day it was an occupation as coveted by the blue collar community as UPS driver. Today, in a method eerily similar to the "scoops" from Soylent Green, a solitary driver now puppeteers a giant mechanical arm that repeatadly hoists and tilts cans into its huge iron mouth like Voltron at a frat party.
The Question of Work Ethic
But is this transition built soley on profit? Or is it a desperate move on the part of businessmen in response to a new generation with many young workers devolving into the latest version of homo sapien, seemingly unfit for a hard day's labor? Will the robots eventually take total control over industry as we know it? Who can stop this army of circuits and wires? What work force warriors do we have representing the humans on the front line in the battle over jobs? Enter "Generation Y". As in "Y do I have to work to make money? A modern real world depiction of the fictional "Eloi", the apathetic, dependent, post-apocalyptic race of humans from the prophetic H.G. Wells book The Time Machine. No self respecting robot is going to be caught taking duck face selfies for their social media profile on office time. Or get repreimanded for repeatedley checking its hair. Personally, after having worked next to both examples, I'm afraid at least a small part of me may start rooting for the robots.