You figure it was going to happen sooner or later, a job agency for the breathing and the lubricated. Robots are certainly quite the buzz lately, even though they’ve been employed in many automated positions for decades. Who would have thought they would need an agency to find employment, even before getting their social security cards. Will they be paying income taxes, state and federal? I digress.
HUBOT, a job agency for people and robots will be open for business, at least in theory, on October 21, 2017 at MediaMarkt, Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Presented as a mock temporary job agency, HUBOT is part of Dutch Design Week. The brainchild of Next Nature Network and the Start Foundation, the HUBOT demonstration intends to promote the concept that humans and robots can work together. As a result, the future will be a better place?
Humans view robots several ways: as a threat to job security, as dangerous potential predators, as cute and cuddly playmates, a technological miracle, or just an emerging fact of life. As all things are possible, each view has a certain amount of validity that should neither be condoned nor condemned.
Robots and Horses
According to HUBOT promoters, “A horse can run faster than a human, and yet nobody claims that horses will make mankind dispensable. When a man rides a horse and the two work together, something new happens.” Obviously, a logical and somewhat factual analogy. Horses run faster than humans, therefore we have horse racing and track-and-field events for humans, two separate and distinct practices that involve running.
Horses are still sometimes used to pull carts and wagons, handsome cabs, and perhaps the occasional heavy load. They also find the bulk of their employment in horseback riding schools and entertainment establishments. And let’s not forget the occasional western movie.
Then there are the horse’s mechanical counterparts. They include the small mechanical horse outside retail establishments that kids get a ride on for a fee; bucking electro-mechanical broncos found in some bars and other establishments that hearty riders can test their skills on, and the now rarer wooden carousel horses. I’d say rocking horses, but that goes back too far.
Unfortunately, the promoter’s analogy rather purposefully omits the real human element. Horses require care from their human owners and an organic, emotional bond forms between the two as a result of that care. Hey, the horse knows who’s filling his or her feedbag and brushing his or her mane. If a robot assumed those care-giving tasks, it could scare the horse fertilizer-less, at least until they got used to each other.
Robots As A Threat To Jobs
There was a recent report on ABC news showing how robots were making pizzas for a fast-food chain that will remain nameless here. Apparently the system was working fine, very profitable and efficient. When the franchise owner was asked about the personnel replaced by these semolina-dough twirling cyborgs, the response was the robots freed up those workers to do other things.
The question is what did they free those workers up to do? It’s not unimaginable that the pizza making in a fast food environment is fairly simple and regimented. Also, it has been a personal experience that most fast-food workers are working on minimum wage, which could be telling of any higher tech skills. I tend to believe there would not be much else to do once the robots come in except stand in line you-know where.
For many people, just the term ‘robot’ invokes negative feelings. In some cases, such as the aforementioned scenario, the negative feelings could be justified. However, when robots take over those physically demanding and repetitive jobs on an assembly line, the human in charge of the robots may feel differently.
We can’t escape those lingering visions of mass unemployment displayed in many novels and movies. Some picture crowds of angry unemployed protestors hitting the streets, but not to worry. Robots are pretty good at crowd control.
On The Upside
According to the folks at Next Nature Network and the Start Foundation, HUBOT encourages people to look at robot technology and its application from a unique perspective. They believe if we all realize humans and robots can work together, jobs are created, not destroyed.
They opine that, after viewing HUBOT, one can discover 16 future professions in which technology allows humans to perform tasks they wouldn't have been capable of otherwise. For example, a mover wearing a robotic suit with a motorized exoskeleton. They claim a lightweight person or person with a physical disability wearing such a suit could lift a washing machine as if it weighs nothing.
Another example they cite is the Shiva physiotherapist. The human touch has a unique therapeutic effect that a machine cannot replicate, which is why the Shiva physiotherapist massages with her own hands. But for the heavy work, she could have four additional robotic arms at her disposal. These allow her to work for the entire day and enable her to give incredible six-handed massages: two with the human touch and four with the feel of fine steel?
In both cases, the question is if the robot alone could move the washing machine, why wear a suit that enables a human to do the same thing? And if four robot hands are acceptable in Shiva massage, what’s two more amongst acquaintances.
Roll Your Own
In this particular story you really need to form an individual opinion. If you are a robot maker, you’ll probably love the HUBOT demo and concept. After that you are on your own. If you want more details, visit Next Nature Network and if you want to watch the countdown to the opening on October 21, 2017, visit HUBOT. ~MD