We’ve long feared that robots would take our jobs. But you know what? They’re just as useless as we are.
Back in 2017, Pew Research discovered that 70% of Americans “express wariness or concern about a world where machines perform many of the tasks done by humans”, giving further credence to the fear that the robots will take our jobs and then our lives.
As the study noted, “Ordinary Americans are very wary and concerned about the growing trend in automation and place a lot of value in human decision-making,” said Aaron Smith, the author of the research, which surveyed more than 4,000 US adults. “They are not incredibly excited about machines taking over those responsibilities.”
It’s a legitimate fear. Movies have told us so, music has warned us, and even the robots themselves have joked about killing us. It’s a dark time, sure. But we needn’t worry. Personally, I believe the fear boils down to them being better than us. But there are crucial examples of them being terrible at their jobs, which either give us hope or at least make our replacements a trifle more relatable.
Walmart (America’s leader in the dehumanisation sector) has long boasted about the robotic workers that they’ve wheeled out. It makes sense, from an executive standpoint, but the employees that the robots will one day replace, and for now are teaching them the ropes, all far less complimentary.
Some employees snitched to The Washington Post, telling the publication that they’re not entirely sure how to act around the robots, which apparently goes the same for customers. Which is a bit of a shocker, it is very much unlike the Americans to be suspicious and uneasy around the emergence of a new cheaper productive workforce.
Walmart has started using robots to unload trucks, scan shelves, and clean floors in 2019. However, flesh and blood employees have to educate the bots and correct their errors.
“The monotony in the store has increased a ton since we’ve gotten these robots,” Walmart employee Evan Tanner told WaPo. “It’s insane.”
This week, The Wall Street Journal introduced us to a Japanese humanoid robot named Pepper. It seems that Pepper is not all that great at its job. According to Pepper’s job description, Pepper was required to offer people in mourning a relevant piece of scripture in order to assuage their grief. Unfortunately, Pepper malfunctioned, took unscheduled breaks, and forgot the name of the clientele. Pepper was fired, and now the parent company that gave him life has grounded him and is rethinking the whole thing. One disgruntled customer even said (after he claimed that it was love at first sight), “(Pepper) was such a waste of money. I still regret it.”
Pepper has also fielded some rather titanic criticism from experts in the field, with one saying “…because it has the shape of a person, people expect the intelligence of a human.”
The fictional Tyrell Corporation promised us robots that were more human than human. In Pepper, I feel we have exactly that. What is more human than someone being terrible at a job they shouldn’t have got in the first place?
Back in 2017, a Knightscope security robot (employed to patrol a shopping mall) famously decided it could no longer take it, and drove itself into a fountain. At the time, we laughed. As one Twitter user put it: “We were promised flying cars, instead we got suicidal robots.”
Maybe robots need a hug? Or at least a day off. Or maybe a union.