A lot of people are worried that robots are going to take their jobs. Doctors are worried that they’ll be replaced by robot doctors. Chefs are worried that they’ll be replaced by robot chefs. But me? I’m not worried. I do certain things at work that a robot would never be able to replicate.
For instance, on an average workday, I spend two to three hours in the bathroom. Sometimes I’m doing bathroom things, but usually I’m playing games on my phone or napping. A robot, though? It doesn’t need to go to the bathroom. The second that people see those shiny, metal robot legs under the stall door, they’ll know that the robot’s goofing off instead of sitting at its desk. Point is, I can watch a whole episode of “The Big Bang Theory” in the bathroom, and robots can’t.
Here’s another thing that I do that a robot can’t: send passive-aggressive e-mails that undermine my colleagues. Despite major advances in artificial intelligence, today’s robots aren’t capable of writing, “Marcia, per my last e-mail, do you have any updates on your end of the project?,” and then cc’ing Marcia’s boss, like I would. At best, a robot could write, “Beep boop, beep boop, I believe what you are looking for is in the attachment, Marcia.”
A couple of times a year, I pressure my colleagues into ordering Girl Scout cookies from my fictional daughter, and then I pocket the money. I’m sure that a robot could do that, too, but I can’t imagine that it would want to . . . and that’sa problem.
Human employees, like me, give co-workers funny nicknames—like Fat Steve, which is what I call my colleague Steve. But a robot could never come up with a nickname as creative as that, because it can only see in Terminator vision—its visual processor only categorizes people as threats or allies. So, at best, the robot would call Steve either Threat Steve or Ally Steve. Those are terrible nicknames, especially for someone as fat as Steve.
I think the thing I’m best at is taking other people’s lunch from the refrigerator. A robot would never do that, because it would be too busy ogling the refrigerator. That’s robots for ya—always falling in love with appliances.
Robots are great at rote tasks, but they lack a certain human touch. Case in point: a robot would never “conveniently forget” to help pay for a cake when it’s a co-worker’s birthday—but that’s something I do constantly! I’ve eaten about four hundred dollars’ worth of free cake throughout my career, whereas a robot would probably both pay for the cake and get it all jammed up in its USB ports. Hardly a workplace revolution, if you ask me.
If I finish off the pot of coffee in the break room, I never make a new one. A robot, on the other hand, would use predictive analytics to have brewed a new pot before the old one was even finished. But, if robots are so smart, how come they aren’t selling stolen coffee makers on eBay like I am?
I play on my company’s softball team. I show up drunk (robots can’t drink), I strike out every time (robots would hit home runs every time), and I never hustle (robots always hustle). But has a robot ever been escorted off the field by the umpire and a police officer for shouting lewd and offensive comments at the opposing team? No. Which means scientists still have a long way to go before we’ll see robots in the workplace.
This article first appeared in www.newyorker.com
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