Robot Got Your Tongue?

 | Fri 14 Nov 2014 23:35 ICT

Technological Unemployment is a term used to describe the growing displacement of humans by intelligent robots. It’s a term that’s becoming more common as more and more people are out of work due to the rise of global automation. It’s something that can either be embraced or constantly fought against. With going against its current, we will continue to see higher rates of unemployment or, swimming with it, it can be seen as a way to free humans from menial jobs and to pursue more creative ventures.  

Image credit: Wikipedia Creative Comments

The recent invention of a robot tongue, named e-delicious, funded by the Thai government for a hefty sum of $1 million USD (over 32 million baht) had me thinking of the merits of robots eventually taking over the world and if that’s “okay” or not. Have we become so lazy that we’re going to outsource taste to a robot? That’s what we want robots for? To eliminate ones of life’s best experiences, taste? Technology in and of itself is not inherently good or bad, but it all depends what it’s used for.

As Louis C.K. put it, and I paraphrase, “There are things I’m totally of course about and then there are things I’m maybe about.” In this case, of course it’s totally awesome to have a machine that judges how great Thai food is; why would I want to eat bad Thai food when a machine can judge it for me? But maybe, it’s not worth spending $1 million in government funds when we have a whole host of other social problems plaguing the country. Maybe

This pricey contraption was brought about after a globetrotting trip by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. She was so incensed with the crappy Thai food abroad that she felt the cooks of various backgrounds (Italian, French, Burmese, etc…) were doing a disservice to Thailand and effectively ruining her country’s reputation as a place of culinary delights.

The judging parameters on how authentic the Thai dishes are is measured on a scales from one to 100, where 100 is being an Iron Chef worthy creation to one being the regurgitated bile of a back alley cat. The system was created through the perhaps not airtight process of giving several dishes to 120 Thai students at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, asking each to give a score on that scale, and tallying the results.

The timing of this culinary contraption, to put it bluntly, couldn’t have been worse. In July, the Thailand Constitutional Court found the former prime minister guilty of failing to deal with the corruption of a rice scheme that cost the government $15.6 billion US dollars (well over 500 billion baht), and led to a lot of angry farmers not getting paid. Of course, acts like this never come as a surprise when the market system itself promotes fraud and corruption…

It’s survival of the fittest in a system with fewer and fewer safety nets. The bankers and politicians did what they’ll invariably do when they’re rewarded by bad behaviour; act badly. They rigged the markets and thus raised the price of rice. The poor, as they always do, suffer the consequences from the actions of the wealthy. This has happened time and time again. Just recently with the housing crisis in the west in 2008 which saw the government bailing out the very people who started the mess at the expense of the taxpayers (i.e. the poor). This happened in Greece too with the massive inherited debt that they simply couldn’t pay off and of course, the poor people suffered again from the austerity measures that were put into place. The poor always suffer from the decisions of the rich and powerful and in this case, the Thai rice farmers were the victim. The market promotes greed and it should never come as a surprise that greed is shown by the people that perpetuate the system.  

But I digress.

Let’s return to the original query: is it okay for robots to steal your job? The best answer I can give you is, sort of.

Perhaps a million dollar, publicly funded robot taster is a bad idea (I’m gonna go ahead and just say yeah, it’s a bad idea). But what about robots that build houses, thereby freeing humans from menial labour? Is this a good idea? Robots, like our taste testing friend e-delicious, never need a vacation or a break or sick days.

But what about the human jobs they replace?

Studies have been released showing that up to 80 percent of all jobs out there can be automated. Coupled with the fact that many jobs provide no social value (aside from perpetuating a consumer mentality on a finite planet), the very existence of jobs, and consequently money, can be put into question.  But what we’re talking about here is a massive shift in social behaviour, one that surely would take generations to take hold, if it ever did. And what we’re left with in the meantime is light-speed technological development that threatens to explode the already ever-widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

Are robots our friends? Only time will tell.