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The Robot Are Coming, Sort Of!

Down and out in Silicon Valley
Atlas, Boston Dynamic’s 165-pound robot and YouTube sensation, can run, jump, and even do backflips, and is rarin’ to go to work. But who wants to hire him?

Atlas is a classic case of technology outstripping utility. He’s designed to mimic a human being’s movements, but not to do anything useful that a human might do.

One of Atlas’s UnHuman Resource issues is that he’s not a self-starter. He needs a very-human handler to control him with a laptop, a joystick, and a wireless radio. He’s also clumsy, according to the New York Times. In a recent demonstration he stumbled to the floor several times and crashed headlong into a pylon. But given how quickly robotic technology is advancing, his deficiencies are unlikely to be anything other than growing pains. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like many humans seeking to enter the work force for the first time and lacking a saleable skill set, he ends up in the military.

The immediate future in robotics appears to be highly specialized, single-task applications. Flippy, Miso Robotic’s hamburger-making robot, is now working full time at Caliburger in Pasadena, flipping thousands of burgers every day. And Flippy was set to get an additional gig at Dodger Stadium in mid-August, frying chicken tenders and tater tots, pending the ability of the remaining human food service workers getting up to speed on how to work with him.

Minimum wage workers in the hospitality industry may be about to face the same competition for jobs as their brethren in fast food. Marriott is testing an Alexa-like receptionist with a facial recognition system in two hotels in China, designed to speed guest check-in. Reading the tea leaves, Marriott employees here in the US have authorized their union to strike, not only demanding higher wages and more workplace safety, but also procedures to protect workers from the threat of new technologies.

And then there’s Ori, the first robotic furniture controller, designed to help humans cope with living in a tiny apartment. Ori is like a high-tech Murphy bed with bonus closet space. With a simple voice command, your bed and clothing storage will descend from the ceiling, transforming your living room (maybe your only room) into the bedroom you’ve always wanted but couldn’t afford in San Francisco or Manhattan.

Finally, there’s Harmony, the first robot for a single-task application that’s not highly specialized for humans, only for androids: sex. Harmony, due to come on the market shortly, performs all the usual functions of a silicone sex doll, but with the added abilities of limited conversation and response to touch. I’ll skip over the details of her anatomically correct features, internal as well as external, which are only a Google search away. But it should be noted that sex has historically proven to be the leading application for driving the growth of technological innovations such as cable TV and the Internet. An article in Forbes despairs that Harmony “opens up [a] Pandora’s box of psychology and science,” and calls her “the most disruptive technology we didn’t see coming.” My response is, “What world does the author live in?”

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