Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Pepper the Robot - do you want fries with that ?

When Softbank placed 1000 of its new emotionally intelligent robots (Pepper) on sale for $2000 each they sold out in under 1 minute. It has also just been announced that Pepper has secured a number of jobs in Pizza Hut across Asia taking orders and payments.  Next stop USA and Europe.

Take a look at the video of Pepper talking to Rory Cellan-Jones in Estate Agent mode. She is very cute and if we assume a shelf life of 3 years would cost about $55 dollars per month.

As previously commented on automation has been creeping up on us since the dawn of the digital computer  but suddenly this starts to look like mass job replacement on an industrial scale as opposed to tools which help people do their jobs more efficiently.

News that Apple supplier FoxConn recently replaced 60,000 staff with Robots in a single factory supports this view. Estimates vary by work sector but in some sectors such as call centre activity 75% of jobs are expected to be replaced by automation and respected surveys show 45% of jobs will be lost in manufacturing.

All good maybe - more time to loaf around, watch some TV and idly sip on a cold beer while pondering the facts of life. The slight flaw in that brief sketch of nirvana is the complete lack of earned income to support those worthy activities.  On a macro scale will the politicians be able to maintain the types of distinctions they enjoy between the workers and the shirkers and the deserving and un-deserving poor as the tax base shrinks faster than a EU politician can claim his expenses ?

600 factories in Kunshan Province in China are looking at similar proposals and since average local annual income is @$4000 per annum if the numbers work in China they are a no-brainer in Europe and the UK.

The rapid rise of inequality and emergence of a global "elite" has a tang of Feudalism about it but in reality free market capitalism was dead and buried when the banks were bailed out by the taxpayer during the financial crisis. That issue however has not really gone away and in the US a new group is in place to address this - Take on Wall Street - who argue that since the crash 90% of the income growth has been captured by the top 1%.

If predictions are correct on automation inequality is about to become much more severe due to high levels of unemployment and these will make the issues around the financial crisis look small by comparison.

However - top prize will go to the hacker who breaks in to Pepper's operating system while she is talking to customers.............................

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