Killer Trucks and Robot Chefs: More Places Where Automation is Creeping into Workforce
A lot of Stephen King books have been turned into movies. To my knowledge, though, he only ever directed one of them himself. That film is Maximum Overdrive, an insane, coke-and-adrenaline-fueled sci-fi action flick about trucks that come to life. Spoiler alert: they don’t like us very much. One of them wears a giant green goblin mask. It’s a whole thing.
Regrettable pieces of 80s pop culture aside, the lessons that Mr. King imparted to me are clear: trucks are big and scary, and it’s important that we control them rather than vice versa. It’s a good thing that will never change-
Oh, goddammit. Well, buckle your seatbelts, folks. The AI uprising is coming. Here are a couple cutting-edge technologies that, frankly, scare the crap out of me.
Let’s start with the whole truck thing…
Okay, I’ll admit it. Trucking seems like a pretty logical use-case for cutting-edge machine learning technology. Trucking companies could improve efficiency and cut down on labor costs. Heck, they could even build a separate lane on the Interstates just for self-driving eighteen wheelers.
(That idea is up for grabs, by the way, just in case any AI or trucking magnates are reading this. You’re welcome.)
There is no doubt that self-driving trucks are on their way. Companies like Volvo, Tesla, and even Uber have been behind the technology for years. Traffic analytics company Inrix recently even mapped out what could be the best routes for future Maximum Overdriving, based on factors like road conditions and traffic volume.
So far, there have been no reported incidents of these trucks turning on their human overlords and enacting grisly, automotive revenge. But I’m keeping my eyes on them.
Too many cooks…
I live in Boston and often find myself in the downtown area trying desperately to find a quick bite to eat. Imagine my surprise recently when I stumbled across a brand new restaurant that made a startling claim: its food was cooked by the cold, merciless hands of the machines.
We’ve all seen the videos on Facebook of robotic hamburger and ice cream machines. But Spyce, created by a team of MIT students, bills itself as “the world’s first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen that cooks complex meals.” The robot chefs take about three minutes to prepare a multi-ingredient, multi-step meal with real nutritional value.
Obviously, these meals are still designed by human chefs. But fine cooking is exactly the kind of specialized, highly-skilled work that for a long time was considered safe from automation. These robots may not be winning Michelin stars yet, but they have a foot in the door.
More and more restaurants are starting to automate; a recent study from the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that 73% of restaurant jobs had the potential for automation. This doesn’t just mean robot chefs. The digital kiosks that have been invading McDonald’s for the last few years are yet another example of the automated future of food service.
By some estimates, nearly half of all work tasks may be automated by the year 2025. That is certainly a grandiose prediction, but I don’t think it’s so far off. The rise of robot work, whether it’s in the kitchen or on the road, is already a reality. The next wave of automation will change the world in the same way that the Industrial Revolution did, probably dramatically more.
I am ready to admit I started this article with an alarmist tone. In truth, there is no immediate physical danger posed to humans by AI; the danger they pose is more economic. If more and more jobs are replaced by robots, what will happen to the people put out of work?
When done right, automation gets rid of undesirable jobs and allows people to enter more fulfilling and higher-paying positions. When done wrong, it increases unemployment and causes resentment between man and machine.
So let’s think this one through, people. Because I believe in innovation, I really do. But if we’re going to create a world of killer trucks, we might as well do it in a way where we can all enjoy it.
By: Joseph Green