“Robots Will Take Over, Stupidly, Slowly but Surely”

Image from the NYT article linked below and made by Kristian Hammerstad

The title is actually a line I say (or something close to it anyways) when I’m at work.

The computer I use to deal with sales, the lottery machine I use, the safe I use to keep the money in, etc.

They all invariably break down, make a mistake or sometimes (but of course only very infrequently) I make a mistake myself and cause the machine to inaccurately react to whatever is going on.

Sometimes debit cards are old and the beep for swiping will only go once and not twice. Other times the lottery machines gets stuck when printing out tickets (this is somewhat infrequent to be fair) . And sometimes I just hit the wrong button because the buttons are too close together. Or because I’m being lazy. Or because I’m just a clumsy fucker.

But I like saying the title of this post because it’s a sort of self-assurance. I guess. I mean, I just started thinking about this so give me a break, okay? But anyways, everyone is trying to assure themselves of something at some point in some way. This is just one way I’m trying to do much the same by acting as if machines are still really behind me in terms of intelligence.

The truth is though that while the convenience store I work at may be slightly behind the times (it took the creamer to break for us to get a new one and have a digital display, I jokingly asked my then manager if everything else would break would we get better ones) there are other stores that aren’t so behind.

Take Wegman’s for an example.

At least the one I went to in MA there were self checkout registers and not only that but soda machines that didn’t have any levers. It was all touch orientated and you could mix and match your favorite sodas. It was kinda cool but apparently it’s been around for three years already. I don’t see them very often though.

On the other hand, the straws, cups, lids and so on were all still manual and used dispensers and the usual machinery.

So something “new’ mixed with something reliable and timeless.

There were also people on some of the registers but the self checkout aisle (that my friends and I went through) also seemed pretty popular.

Wegman’s has actually been around for a long time but it seems to be incorporating the “newer’ technologies of the last bunch of years. I don’t see self checkout at many stores that I visit (with the exception of CVS) and so it’s always sociologically interesting to see how many people still prefer that over people.

By the time my friends and I were visiting the store it was around the evening time and on a Tuesday so there weren’t too many people around as I thnik there’d be otherwise. This was both good and bad. But from the standpoint of someone interested in seeing how people deal with new technologies it would’ve been better if more people had been there.

This attempt at self-assurance though seems hollow in the wake of reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s review of “Rise of the Robots” which was put on the New York Times more than a few months back.

At one point Ehrenreich says:

But, as Martin Ford documents in “Rise of the Robots,” the job-eating maw of technology now threatens even the nimblest and most expensively educated. Lawyers, radiologists and software designers, among others, have seen their work evaporate to India or China. Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams.

Particularly terrifying to me, computer programs can now write clear, publishable articles, and, as Ford reports, Wired magazine quotes an expert’s prediction that within about a decade 90 percent of news articles will be computer-­generated.

As a fellow writer I suppose I too should be worried about computer programs writing publish-worthy articles in professional outlets. Then again, if this blog is any indication making it “big” or getting myself on professional blogs aren’t really my dreams. But then if they’re able to do it for professional outlets then there’s no reason they couldn’t do it for your average Joe writer. At least in theory.

That’s the trouble with a lot of this, especially for me. Much of this is theoretical stuff that I don’t have a lot of personal experience or knowledge on. Obviously it’s pretty relevant to our current environment of work as well as the future of it but I really have no clue how it’s going to affect the jobs I work or the ones you do. Much less the jobs we all wish we did have (insofar as we want them at all anyhow).

The author of “Rise of the Robots”, Martin Ford, doesn’t exactly paint us a good picture of what lies ahead as Ehrenreich explains:

Ford offers little hope that emerging technologies will eventually generate new forms of employment, in the way that blacksmiths yielded to autoworkers in the early 20th century. He predicts that new industries will “rarely, if ever, be highly labor-intensive,” pointing to companies like YouTube and Instagram, which are characterized by “tiny workforces and huge valuations and revenues.” On another front, 3-D printing is poised to make a mockery of manufacturing as we knew it. Truck driving may survive for a while — at least until self-driving vehicles start rolling out of Detroit or, perhaps, San Jose.

Having no degree in software, computers or robotics, etc. I can’t say with much certainty how true or untrue this is.

I can say that it seems like machines are taking us over…they’re just taking their time about it. And they’re not doing it in particularly smart or ingenious ways. But that’s mostly because we’re the ones designing them to begin with and, at least for now, our intellect can only go so far so as to prevent ourselves from being obsolete.

There’s related concerns about the military industrial complex using new technologies for evil (see: the new Marvel movie Ant-Man for a recent example) but that’s just another reason to be an anarchist and get technologies out of the hands of the elites and into the hands of the individual(s).


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