Contrary to whatever Bill Gates may think.
Photo: Blutgruppe / Corbis
With the rise of automation, the formerly outrageous idea that a robot could take your job has become increasingly plausible. Bill Gates, not content on being a harbinger of blue screen doom with his overrated operating systems, has reinforced that fear by announcing in a recent interview his belief that robots will pretty much replace everyone someday. Normally, we'd issue a nasty "Right back at ya’, four eyes!" followed by the raising of a certain finger, but unfortunately, Gates is likely right. Still, some jobs just shouldn't be done by a machine. Ever. Jobs like…
The RoboCop movies taught us a lot of lessons we weren't really expecting – the dangers of profit-margin government, the temptation and potential for corruption by creating suffering, the needlessness of sequels and remakes… But the biggest lesson is that a cold, calculating robotic civil servant can never fully replace a reasonable, discerning human being. A robot's protocol isn't to achieve some greater goal that betters society; it’s simply to follow a set of rigid, mathematical rules. And sometimes police need to exercise the kind of in-the-moment judgment that can’t be programmed.
News flash: machines don't have tongues. Well, OK, technically some of them do, but they don’t have taste buds. They also don't seem to be very good at picking out food combinations and creating recipes that humans would enjoy. IBM's Watson tried to develop recipes for its human overlords at the most recent SXSW Festival, and while it came up with some tasty creations, one reporter noted that it played its food choices "a little safe" (aka, meat, and lots of it). When they tried to force it to stick to a certain style of cuisine with specific ingredients or regional tastes, it couldn't come up with anything unique, because mankind has already come up with so many workable recipes. So let’s just go ahead and leave the task of designing new dishes to those who can actually taste them.
Nurses and Doctors
Perhaps you’ve noticed robots becoming more commonplace in the field of medicine. In some cases, they not only allow the doctor to engage in a face-to-face interaction with patients from afar, but they may also allow surgeons to perform delicate procedures on human bodies that would not otherwise be possible. But while that might be a breakthrough for the world of medicine, it's a little scary to the person on the table. It's potentially just one step away from an all-mechanical doctor who doesn't understand why, say, a patient is screaming as a cold robot face stands over him with a rotating table saw for a hand. Not to be dramatic or whatever.
Humans aren't perfect, but neither are robots; after all, we created them. When a human waiter or waitress messes up our order, it's easy to be understanding, because even people who’ve never worked a day in the service industry can usually recognize that occasional mistakes are unavoidable. And while replacing human waiters with robots might eliminate errors like mixed up orders or pissed off servers spitting in your food, a machine can't mimic the movement and efficiency of a real person who actually cares about your nut allergy. And more important, how will you ever really enjoy a meal out unless it begins with, “Hi there, I’m Gina, and I’ll be taking care of you this evening” (or, as in the case of our local joint, “What the hell do you want?”).
Naturally, we take umbrage at the thought of a robot or computer churning out 1,500 words of copy based on a handful of collected data. It's not just because it threatens to eliminate something we love (or, um, our own jobs). It's because they don’t understand nuance, or the beauty of language. And yet, robots are already writing automated news reports. But while a robot may be faster and more efficient than a real human writer, we just have one question: Can it make a decent innuendo-based penis joke? We think not.
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