Innovation over Employment

Taposh Desai
Published on: 21st July 2016
A few days ago, I was watching this video in which they showed that a company had developed this really cool robot that could deliver food to your doorstep. It uses GPS, cameras on three sides to avoid collision, travels at a speed of 3 mph and will step out of the way of any oncoming pedestrians. Cute looking too. But it got me thinking, if these bots actually came into existence and I’d be dropping my pizza bill into one of its compartments or something, I can’t give it a warm smile and say “thank you”.

We have robots doing, or at least are capable of doing everything man does, and more. It’s an effective approach to increase efficiency, reduce time consumption and cut production costs. We have machines which can (literally) single-handedly do the work of 10 men. Hydraulics, semiconductor chips, titanium-aluminium alloys and a bunch of other cool sounding stuff make life SO much easier. There are machines that build mobile phones, cars, televisions, toothbrushes, appliances and a lot more. There are basically machines which can build machines. There are machines which build machines which build machines. The cycle goes on till we are able to map it back to the industrial revolution. Sure, there are human hands involved in the process, but how much?
Innovation over Employment
If you’re a chocolate junkie, watch the film Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. There’s so much chocolate in the movie that it’ll give you a chocolate hangover. What’s also in the movie is a scene where they show how Charlie’s father loses his job at the toothpaste factory. His job was to fit caps onto the filled toothpaste tubes. It was a low end job, which didn’t require much qualification, but it payed the bills. Every so often, he’d find a deformed cap which had to be discarded. But instead, he’d give it to his son (who later builds an amazing sculpture out of it). But one (not so fine) day, the factory management decide that the production line is held up because screwing on the caps on the tubes of toothpaste takes a lot of time and get a machine to do the job for Charlie’s father. What follows, in this story, is ultimately a happy ending. But there’s no chocolate factory or golden ticket in real life, is there?

I don’t actually know what’s happening in the real world, but I’m sure that the above example isn’t entirely untrue.

But that’s more at an industrial level where profit margins and the stakes are higher. Let’s talk about the Indian Pizza Industry. I usually pay about ₹400 for a meal for one. If, in the distant future, the delivery guy were to be replaced by the aforementioned delivery bot, I’m sure the rates will come down a bit. If the chef is replaced by a super-pizza-maker bot (trust me, it exists), the cost would come down even more for pizzas that look identical to the ones in the pictures (who wouldn’t want that?). But the difference would be the same as that between a home-cooked meal and a hostel’s mess food. There won’t be any love!

The production line was the brain child of Henry Ford. Every product manufactured follows that concept. But somehow, the bigger or more expensive an object gets, the more likely it is to be made by hand. Rolex, Ferrari, Rolls Royce and a lot of other companies build stuff by hand. The Italian car maker Lamborghini takes it to extremely difficult lengths. Almost 90% of the building process is done by hand, including the paint job. And that’s what makes this genre of products more exquisite. The care and the love that goes into it. Heck, even your local snack store guy makes it with emotion.

When a person builds something, he tries to make it as perfect as possible. That’s his conscience. A machine, on the other hand is programmed to build it perfectly, so it wouldn’t look twice to check for imperfections or have a gut feeling. It does not have the conscience to strive to perfection. It is set so that the product must be, de facto, perfect. Where’s the love? Where’s the story behind it? Where’s the sweat and blood that makes an object more than just an object? A little too dramatic? Sorry.

The bottom line is that machines make life much easier for everyone - the finished product is cheaper and better and the machine in itself is an engineering marvel. But maybe a few things in life shouldn’t be automated. Perhaps we can leave out pizzas, paintings and music from the list of machine made things. And perhaps we should let people pour out their emotions into their work. It might just lead the world to a place filled with connectivity that couldn’t be achieved with the best technology available.
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