That’s Baxter, not Dexter – you can tell the difference because the former will soon have a lot more blood on his hands than the latter. Baxter is the new face of working class obsolescence, a new kind of industrial robot who, along with his clones and descendants, is expected to roll out across the manufacturing world in the next ten to twenty years.
Notice how I accidentally called it a him? That’s probably why they gave it a human name rather than, say, Model XT85, it makes us more likely to accept its intrusions into our lives. Probably part of the reason for the cartoon eyes as well – that way he’s cute, like Number 5 or WallE. Awww…
What makes this motherfucking toaster so dangerous to the human worker is its low cost. The current generation of industrial robots cost about $100,000 per unit, plus about $400,000 to program and reprogram the thing during each unit’s lifetime. Apparently, the programming has to be done by an entire team of nerds who went to MIT, and them guys don’t work for McDonald’s-type pay packets. Baxter, on the other hand, costs only $22,000 and requires no skill to program. That’s where the huge difference really lies, the programming costs – from 400k to zilch! A plutocratic bastard can’t ask better than that! Once out of the factory, Baxter is, for all practical purposes, self-programmable. You press a button that puts him, I mean it, into learning mode, then you move its arms and claws around to perform the required actions, put it back into work mode and it now does the new motions all by itself. Apparently the main reason manufacturing isn’t already mostly automated is the cost of programming, and thanks to this weapon of mass unemployment that particular problem no longer exists. Even at this early stage, Baxter could be used to replace millions of workers, imagine what its successors will be able to do.
Here’s Baxter with his creator, Amerikan mad scientist Rodney Brooks. I hope it crushes his fucking head…
In the video posted below this article Brooks claims his creation won’t take away jobs! Yes, Rodders, that’s why companies will pay 22 thousand a piece for these things, because it won’t save them money on wages. They’re doing it so their workers can sit on their asses drinking tea, because that’s what corporations are – benevolent entities who like to give their money away. Of course they are going to take away human jobs, that’s the whole point to a mechanized workplace! And Brooks knows it. While claiming that Baxter won’t take human jobs, Brooks also boasts that it will make workers more productive. I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure that in most circumstances making workers more productive means less work hours will be required, and this in turn means that either less workers will be needed or that full time workers will become part time workers. I know there are industries that fail to keep up with demand and that, for a while at least, those folks won’t be losing many jobs, but as most industries are already meeting demand more productivity will equal less workers. Coming from a man who seems to know something about the way business works, I can only conclude that Brooks is yet another in a long line of disingenuous brainiacs who know the evil they are working and simply don’t care.
And don’t go thinking that you can always learn Mandarin, move to China and get a job there. Oh, no. Not only is Baxter itself cheap enough to replace even a low-paid Chinese worker, but companies like Delta are working on even cheaper robots. At the behest of Foxconn ( the people who manufacture ICrap for Apple ), Delta is working on robots that will cost about $10,000 each and which Foxconn claims will be rolled out into its factories in 2014. For roughly the same cost as a human worker who works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for one year, Foxconn will have a machine that will work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 5 to 7 years. That’s the kind of saving none but the most benevolent of companies would pass up, and Foxconn is anything but benevolent. These are the people who drive their workers to suicide so often that said workers are now required to sign a pledge promising that they won’t commit suicide! And in case that doesn’t stop the selfish bastards from splattering themselves all over the sidewalk, the tech giant has gone to the trouble of placing nets around their multi-story buildings! I guess they do care, after all. Sniff, sniff…
Then there’s Eliza (another humanizing name for a cold piece of metal, you will notice,) a piece of machinery soon to be the bane of Indian call centre operators everywhere, or at least in India. Eliza (as in Doolittle – a machine that will make lower class workers redundant named after a lower class character. Snark much?) is a “virtual service-desk employee” created by some bastard outfit called IPsoft. If you are having some sort of IT problem, you just phone or email this thing and in two thirds of cases it will solve the problem without any help from some useless meatbag. Two thirds may not sound great to you but it’s good enough for companies like ING and Morgan Stanley, and at least one American company has already replaced services previously provided by India’s Tata Consulting Services with Eliza. Think about it, already this thing is costing jobs – imagine what will happen when they finally develop it to the point where it gets virtually everything right and has a nice, human sounding voice! All they have to do is throw in a stereotypical “Oh, my goodness gracious me!” accent and you won’t even know that there are now millions of Sandeeps and Kumars looking for new jobs!
And this is only the beginning. In thirty or forty years tech will probably be able to take middle class jobs as well as working class ones. Even if artificial intelligence remains an unrealized nightmare, it is probable that computers will continue to make inroads into white collar jobs. Even before that happens things will become grimmer for the middle class. As the working class’s jobs disappear, its smarter members will retrain and go gunning for the middle class jobs. The number of white collar jobs is not expected to grow significantly – it may in fact shrink – so there will be a greater number of workers competing for roughly the same number of jobs and this will almost certainly result in lower salaries. In twenty years, you may very well be getting 30k a year for a job that today earns you 70k a year, and you will be bloody glad of it!
So if things are so bleak, what’s the point in even going on about it? If most of the jobs are going to disappear and there’s nothing we can do about it, why even mention it? Why not stick our heads in the sand and hope that we don’t get our asses kicked? The answer to this is simple – while there seems to be nothing that can be done to avert the thunderstorm, there is still time to buy an umbrella. Use your resources while you still have them, and use them wisely. Do you have a job that makes you more money than you need to survive? Then take the money and stow it, don’t blow it. Better yet, invest it in things that will still have a real, concrete value if the economy totally tanks and money becomes worth about as much as toilet paper. While you still can, buy at least a car, preferably a van or a mobile home. What would you rather, being unemployed and living under a bridge, or being unemployed and living in a van or Winnebago? I know which I would rather do. And if you’re lucky enough to be making a substantial amount of surplus moolah, buy a fucking house and fill the basement with food that takes years to go off (white rice, cans, dried beans, army rations), as well as blankets and clothing, the kind of thing you may not be able to afford in another twenty years. Sounds like Prepper paranoia to some, but it’s damn good advice – an asteroid may not be about to hit the earth, solar flares may not be about to kill all our electronics and plunge us into chaos, but poverty is coming, unemployment is coming, the darkness is coming. You can prepare for it, or not, it’s up to you.
Just so you know I didn’t pull all this out of my ass, here are some sources.