Hollywood has produced no shortage of films about robot rebellion over the years, but in the early days of sci-fi cinema, the malevolent robot was usually just a metallic version of the rubber-suited monster. It had no agenda beyond smashing stuff and kidnapping a helpless damsel with an inclination for screaming and fainting.
That all changed with the arrival of HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie, HAL, a computer with artificial intelligence, is meant to support and interact with astronauts on a mission to Jupiter. HAL malfunctions, of course, and tries to do in the crew by shutting off life-support systems and being generally uncooperative.
While that film may have been, in part, a cautionary tale about overreliance on technology, it wasn’t until The Terminator (1984), a film featuring a time-traveling robot assassin, that AI really got scary. In the Terminator series, we learn that a computer network called Skynet has achieved self-awareness, and, upon deciding that humans are a threat to its existence, goes on the attack via an army of killer machines. For the first time, technological malfunction is not the cause of the robot takeover. It’s a technological breakthrough that causes the conflict.
Which leads us to McDonald’s kiosks (naturally).
You may have read that the fast-food giant has begun rolling out order-taking kiosks in certain locations, presumably with the goal of eventually converting all of its restaurants. The kiosks allow customers to punch up their own meals (similar to ordering pizza online), thus eliminating the need for counter staff. Robot arms to prepare and bag the food are also being considered. One day in the near future, if you get pickles you didn’t want on your Quarter Pounder, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. You pressed the wrong button.
These kiosks are causing quite a stir, not because people are worried the machines might uproot themselves and come after us with laser guns, but because of what they say about the future of employment.
It’s no secret that automation technology has been replacing human workers for a while now, and advances in AI are only going to accelerate that shift. Amid the inevitable workforce upheaval, however, some fields that still require people will grow.
Which is good for a company like Caliper that specializes in pre-employment personality assessments. Frankly, robots don’t have personalities, which means they don’t have hopes and dreams. And that is why they will never be as valuable as people. What makes companies successful is bringing people together from different backgrounds – with different experiences, motivations, ideas, and interests – and then seeing what magic they create together. Automation may be a tool that people use to achieve human goals, but it does not exist for its own sake.
Robots helped, but it was humans who (spoiler alert) blew up the Death Star in Star Wars, no? I’d like to think, hopefully, that robots will always be our servants and never our overlords. Gimme C3PO and keep your Arnold Schwarzenegger-lookin’ death machines, thanks.
Now, anyone who watched season one of HBO’s hit series Westworld is aware of the show’s philosophical argument: that we humans are doomed to follow a pre-preprogrammed code just like the robots that inhabit the titular theme park, even when joining a rebellion against whomever we view as our oppressor. But come on, that is way too deep for a business blog like this one.
I’m more concerned that, since season two of Westworld won’t air until 2018 (!), AI technology might take over while we’re waiting, rendering the show irrelevant. Don’t mess with my TV, robots!