Human vs Drone Affirmative Action in the Future?

Drone with Sign that says "you're fired"Seriously. Remember the story of John Henry and Babe the Blue Ox? No? Good. Because it was Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox. John Henry is a different "tall tale" from American Folklore. Paul Bunyan was a lumberjack, while John Henry was a steel driver. Both are stories about human beings struggling to maintain careers that technology aims to make irrelevant.

Can you imagine a contemporary tall tale about an incredible delivery woman who ends up competing with an Amazon delivery drone? For a long time we've known that drones are coming for our jobs. People have been interested in robots and automation since as far back as 250BC. Oh by the way - side note - here's a sort of funny spoof on the Amazon drone thing, and the video that YouTube fed me afterwards shows some DIY drone warfare experiments. This is the Domino's Pizza drone video.

Job Application with Human vs Robot categoriesWhen you think about it, the automatic checkout booths at WalMart, Whole Foods and so on are also taking jobs (although they're also creating jobs for the people who design and maintain them). As long ago as the 1970's electronic musical synthesizers were putting horn sections in bands out of work, and in the 1980's a single DJ was replacing the band. Even before that, juke boxes were putting piano players out of work.

So it's to be expected that drones will also replace humans for all kinds of work, from security to delivery and more. Maybe we'll even get to the point where airplanes are piloted without human input (although that's hard to imagine). There's an article from the New Yorker - like three years old as I write - in which James Suroweicki shares some of the complications which come into play in trying to replace delivery people with drones. For example, "Delivering packages seems like a task that could be easily automated. But, in fact, it’s complicated. Customers are often not at home to receive packages, and so delivery people need to know if they can leave the package safely and where to leave it, whether they should ring a neighbor’s doorbell instead, and so on. Cities present additional problems, since many buildings don’t have doormen and there are typically multiple apartment units in a single building. For a human, dealing with these challenges is reasonably easy, if annoying. How a drone would deal with them is a bit of a mystery.

"The genius of the current system, from the customer’s perspective, is that most of the labor of delivery is performed by the person doing the delivering. If I’m not home when my package arrives, the UPS guy knows to leave it with one of the other people in my building. Or, if none of the neighbors are home, they’ll just come back later. I don’t have to do anything, or commit to being anywhere, to get my package. I order it. It arrives."

drone signSome people think that affirmative action is set up to give non-white people advantages over less qualified whites, but the goal is actually simply to insure that non-whites aren't overlooked because of their race or skin color. Fact of the matter is, in the case of robots, they will almost definitely always be less expensive to maintain than human beings, so let's all try to be sure we invest in ourselves by continuing to develop skills that require actual intelligence. 'Cause at the end of the day, computers are dumb. And drones are... well, drones.

If you're in the Pensacola area and at all interested in robotics, be sure you are aware of the Institute for Human Machine Cognition who have pioneered robotics (including drones) and artificial intelligence research and regularly host public events.

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