January 2, 2011

The Robots Are Coming

Forget waiters and waitresses, the new Japanese Hajime Robot restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand invested almost $1 million on 4 robotic waitstaff.

You order your food by touch screen computer, and there is a countdown on the screen for when the food is ready and the robot brings it out to you.

While the samurai clad robots are not the best looking—their huge eyes are a little cartoonish—they are certainly quite dexterous and able as they nimbly serve the food in this restaurant and dance for the customers in between courses without missing a beat.

Initially automation affected the jobs of blue-collar workers in manufacturing and mechanical work as robots displaced people on the “assembly line.” Now we see the trend continuing and expanding with automation entering the service industry and jobs involving customer interaction, entertainment, and retail being affected. This is happening not only in restaurants, but also elder care (like robot uBot5 being developed out of University of Massachusetts), and in major retail establishments such as in warehouse automation with Kiva Systems robots being employed by major companies like Gap, Staples, and Zappos.

Further, the expansion of robots into traditional human work is also happening in our military—think Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones) like the Predators and Reapers, the robotics pack animals that can carry hundreds of pounds of gear (like Big Dog) and various bomb disposal robots. This is just the beginning.

We are witnessing the transformation of our workforce from traditional blue- and now even white-collar jobs to those with an emphasis on knowledge management (think engineers and technology professionals working at companies like iRobot, Intel, and Apple). This has obvious implications for selection of education pursuits and availability of professional opportunities in the future for our children and grandchildren.

The robots are coming. The robots ARE coming!


No comments: