Wednesday, 6 February 2013

2013: Robots are Rolling Into the Labour Market

Happy 2013 internet. There's a crazy amount of automation going on, and the debate is still skewered towards the interests of the people benefiting from it.

In 2013 robots are going to be rolling into the workforce like never before. Robots used to be the domain of academia; in the last few years they have begun to be very affordable and versatile and therefore have been attracting a crazy amount of investment in a wide range of industries. The low-skilled workers who will lose their jobs to the robots below -- what kind of work will they be able to move to?

Can A Machine Make a Better Hamburger?
'I thought, 'What's the one tool a restaurant could have to destroy its competition'" Vardakostas told us. He estimates that their invention will save the standard quick-service restaurant $135,000 a year in wages, and build a more consistent product.'
R.I.P. fast food jobs.

This Robot Could Transform Manufacturing
MIT Technology Review
'Baxter is the first of a new generation of smarter, more adaptive industrial robots. Conventional industrial robots are expensive to program, incapable of handling even small deviations in their environment, and so dangerous that they have to be physically separated from human workers by cages. So even as robotics have become commonplace in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries, they remain impractical in many other types of manufacturing. Baxter, however, can be programmed more easily than a Tivo and can deftly respond to a toppled-over part or shifted table. And it is so safe that Baxter’s developer, Rethink Robotics, which loaned Baxter to Vanguard Plastics, believes it can work seamlessly alongside its human coworkers.'

R.I.P. factory jobs, R.I.P. the aspirations of Chinese labourers.

The Robot in the Garden -- coming soon
'right now in the U.S., migrant  laborers -- some legal, some not -- do this sort of work. But recent crackdowns on illegal labor and the expense and hassle of hiring workers through a federal guest worker program have left many nursery owners searching for a solution to their labor problem.'

R.I.P. farm hands, R.I.P the hopes for migrant labourers.


  1. You know - I just don't see robots taking over in restaurants. Now or anytime soon and not even in fast food. I think it's one of those ideas that sounds good on theory, but in practice, it just doesn't work very well in the long run. Sure, you can build a machine to make a hamburger, but what are you going to do when that machine breaks? You're going to call the repair guy. Hamburgers won't be getting made that day while you wait for him to show up. Even if the machine never breaks (and what machine never breaks?), you're going to still need a staff to keep the machine happily oiled, cleaned, and fed. It's a neat concept, but I just don't see it as economical right now.

    1. I disagree with your take on this. Instead of 10 burger flippers, you only need ONE machine. Yes, it might break occasionally, but that's why a restaurant would have two or three of these going at the same time. It would be pretty unlikely for all of them to fail at the same time.

  2. To chime in as well on the fast food thing....Can a machine differentiate a soggy piece of lettuce from a fresh one? Can it spot a little bit of mold growing on a tomato slice? Can it spot a hairclip when it falls into the ground beef? My guess is that the answer to all these things is no. Maybe humans don't always spot these things either, but I'd wager that they'd do better than a machine when it comes to judgement.

    Robots in the garden though? That I definitely see happening - it makes sense. With so much of the farming process automated, it's definitely the wave of the future and only a matter of time before machines like that start doing every step of the farm work.