What Jobs Will The Robots Take?

Here’s a great piece (“Inside the Barista Class“) about working in the service industry, but as a barista: a kind of alternate dimension between servant and chef. As the author recounts:

You can always tell when a customer is the kind who really Likes to Know His Service People. When he’s new to the neighborhood he’ll stroll in and start asking questions; about your favorite bar, your tattoo, what’s playing on the sound system. In an uncomplicated set of cultural cues—calling people of both genders “man,” reminding you about his DJ set at such and such bar down the road, reminiscing about that great cup of joe he once drank in Seattle —he’ll mark himself as totally down, a member of the just-recently-completely-bohemian creative class. He tips well, which is a plus, but you probably lose that money in time when he parks himself in front of the counter and stalls the line. He’s complimentary in a way that probably isn’t meant to be condescending about how totally awesome it is, the way you spread the cream cheese on his bagel just so.

When I was a barista, I used to make everyone the same drink (a latte) no matter what they ordered, because it’s one of the easiest drinks to make, and I assumed that nobody really knew what they were asking for. My assumption proved to be correct; not only did no one complain, but they all complimented me on my attention to detail, as if I had made the order exactly to their specifications. I’m still not quite sure why that happened like that.

But speaking of the service economy, here are some useful links: 1. the rise of the service economy and its promotion of highly skilled—not unskilled, as one might expect—processes, training, and development; 2. the top 10 hospitality industry trends will (or should) make you gag; and 3. “What Jobs Will the Robots Take?” from The Atlantic.

From the robots article:

We might be on the edge of a breakthrough moment in robotics and artificial intelligence. Although the past 30 years have hollowed out the middle, high- and low-skill jobs have actually increased, as if protected from the invading armies of robots by their own moats. Higher-skill workers have been protected by a kind of social-intelligence moat. Computers are historically good at executing routines, but they’re bad at finding patterns, communicating with people, and making decisions, which is what managers are paid to do. This is why some people think managers are, for the moment, one of the largest categories immune to the rushing wave of AI.

Meanwhile, lower-skill workers have been protected by the Moravec moat. Hans Moravec was a futurist who pointed out that machine technology mimicked a savant infant: Machines could do long math equations instantly and beat anybody in chess, but they can’t answer a simple question or walk up a flight of stairs. As a result, menial work done by people without much education (like home health care workers, or fast-food attendants) have been spared, too.

Of course, if you’ve read even one other post on this blog, you can adequately imagine my eye roll at the prospect of robots doing anything in the farther-than-immediate future, if only because they require an oil infrastructure to be manufactured and to operated. But beyond the obvious material limits, artificial intelligence is most likely not even possible—maybe even less possible than time travel, which is by all available evidence virtually impossible.

The author of the article disagrees, pointing out that “…that’s the most remarkable thing: In a decade, the idea of computers driving cars went from impossible to boring.” But of course, this decade in question was a decade in which cheap oil was possible. There won’t be too many more decades like that.

Sidenote: on my screen, the sidebar article to the robot one is one called “Not all leaders are bossy.” I would venture to think that no leaders, if they are truly leading—inspiring, educating, encouraging, supportive—are bossy. Yet, to take heed of the end of the robot article, “It would be anxious enough if we knew exactly which jobs are next in line for automation. The truth is scarier. We don’t really have a clue.”, would be to also buy in to the notion that we need bossy people in the first place.

I think Zimmie said it best, in coherent summation of both articles: “Don’t follow leaders, and watch yer parkin’ meters.”


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