American Elephants

Technology and Us: Can We Learn How to Adapt? by The Elephant's Child

tigerstone@2xWhat people pushing for a higher minimum wage don’t get, is that there are hundreds of people with no, or low skills who want to work for money. They are easily replaced. But when they have learned how to work and have skills, they can take that resumé on to a better job.

When government decides what businesses must pay their workers, they run into the problem of costs. A business exists only if it can make a profit over and above the cost of doing business. When the costs become excessive, the business adapts or goes out of business. It’s that simple.

We have written about Momentum Machines, and about McDonald’s new cashiers. Now comes news of a new San Francisco Restaurant in the financial district named Eatsa (?) that is fully automated. Customers will order from an iPad, sending the meal to the kitchen. When the order is ready it appears in a small glass compartment.  (awful name)

In Japan, the Nanna-na hotel, which opened in July, is completely human-free, using robots for every task, from cleaning rooms to managing check-in to check-out.

The machine pictured above is resurfacing streets in Europe, and here is a new bricklaying robot, or SAM —semi-automated mason. It is a robotic bricklayer being used to increase productivity as it works with human masons.

In this human-robot team, the robot is responsible for the more rote tasks: picking up bricks, applying mortar, and placing them in their designated location. A human handles the more nuanced activities, like setting up the worksite, laying bricks in tricky areas, such as corners, and handling aesthetic details, like cleaning up excess mortar.

Even in completing repetitive tasks, SAM still has to be fairly adaptable. It’s able to complete precise and level work while mounted on a scaffold that sways slightly in the wind. The robot can correct for the differences between theoretical building specifications and what’s actually on site, says Scott Peters, co-founder of Construction Robotics, a company based in Victor, New York, that designed SAM as its debut product.

“In construction, your design will say that a window is located exactly 30 feet from the corner of a building, and in reality when you get to the building, nothing is ever where it says it’s supposed to be,” Peters says. “Masons know how to adapt to that, so we had to design a robot that knows how to do that, too.”

Somewhere in the archives I have a video of an automobile factory in Germany — all as elegant, or more so, than the dealer’s showroom, where robots do almost everything and the workers aid and assist the machines. I think it was a Volkswagen factory, but it may be Mercedes, which is probably why I can’t find it.

The point is that robots are continually going to take over simple repetitive jobs. Once you have the machine, it doesn’t have sick days, no problem of getting along with co-workers, spending time on the phone talking to friends, doesn’t ask for raises or days off. We are going to have to learn how to adapt in a changing world.


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