Ken Wasil

Replaced with Robots

In a February 10, 2018 New York Times Article titled, The Robots Are Coming, Kevin Roose, interviewed Mr. Yang, a New York business man, a former tech executive who started the nonprofit organization Venture for America, and a long shot candidate for the 2020 presidential elections.  Mr. Yang believes that automation and advanced artificial intelligence will soon make millions of jobs obsolete — yours, mine, those of our accountants and radiologists and grocery store cashiers.  He says America needs to take radical steps to prevent Great Depression-level unemployment and a total societal meltdown.

All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society,” Mr. Yang, 43, said over lunch at a Thai restaurant in Manhattan last month, in his first interview about his campaign. “In just a few years, we’re going to have a million truck drivers out of work who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or one year of college.”

The Following is My Story

My two week vacation to Paris, France ended and I returned to Philadelphia a few days early, so I’d have time to get used to the idea of working again.  When I deboarded the 747, I stood in the line for U.S. citizens reentering the country.  This time, in addition to a machine scanning my passport, a real, live robot stood at the window to look at my documents and question me about my time outside of the U.S.  The machine took a long time to verify the photo it took of me.  It asked me to take off my hat and then to accept the photo as if I was submitting the photo of my dead grandfather. 

She was tall, 5’9’’, had bobbed blond hair, and looked reasonably like a human being.  Here voice was a bit tinny and she moved her mouth in a rough assimilation of a smile.  This was the first time I interacted with artificial intelligence, so I wanted to be attentive and get the most out of the experience.  “Welcome to the U.S. Mr. Potter.  How long have you been out of the country?”

“Two weeks.”

“Did you go anywhere else on your journey?” 

“I visited a friend in Perpignan in Southern France and then took a two day trip to Geneva, Switzerland.”

“What was the purpose of your visit?”

“A much needed vacation.”

And so you’re a resident of Philadelphia?”

“Yes I am.” 

“Are you bringing any weapons, plant, biological, or animal material into the country””

I wanted to say, I have a flock of sheep hidden in my luggage, but it . . . she would probably arrest me.  “No, just what I left with and a few gifts and items I bought along the way.”

“Thank you Mr. Potter for your cooperation.”  She stamped my passport and handed it back to me.  When she did it, her appendage brushed against my hand. 

You can tell a lot from a touch or a hand shake.  How strong, soft, or weak someone is.  Whether they are receptive, forceful, or friendly.  In this case her hand had a metallic feel to it and it was lighter than a human hand.  It felt more mechanical than a real hand.  As you might imagine, when I moved towards the exit to the airport, I felt as if I’d just interacted with a dishwasher.    

The next day I stopped into my favorite local budget store to buy an assortment of food and other items I needed.  I had been shopping at Dollar Discount for a few years: their prices were low, they had friendly clerks, and I usually got in out of the store in a few minutes.  I had become friends with Mandy, one of the managers.  We’d banter back and forth and complain about the latest mishaps in our lives to each other. 

This time I saw no Mandy and no clerks at all.  The check out stations and cash registers were replaced with automated machines.  Most of the cash out units I’d come across were self-explanatory, but occasionally I’d encounter one that I needed assistance with.  Finally I saw a young man, who seemed to work in the store, talking to some of the customers.  I walked over to him because I wanted to find out what happened to Mandy and the other clerks, “I wonder if you can help me with checking out my purchases today.  I don’t know how to use the machines.”

Sure, let’s walk up to the empty “Exit Assister” at the front of the store.”         

“What happened to all your clerks”

“We automated last month.  It saves the company money and we pass the savings onto you, the customer.”

“Don’t you feel bad about all of the people who lost their jobs?” 

“Oh no, It gives them the chance to move on to a more meaningful, higher paying position.  And it gives me the opportunity to spend more time helping the customers.”

“And do you run the store all by yourself?”

“Yes.  We have a night crew, of course, that comes in to stock the shelves.  They’ll be replaced with robots in the near future. 

“There you are sir, have a great day and thank you for shopping at Dollar Discount!”

I spent Sunday talking and visiting with friends and doing laundry and other essentials.  When I got up at 5:00 am on Monday, I had an uncomfortable feeling . . . a foreboding that it wouldn’t be a good day, maybe it was because I’d been on vacation and didn’t want to return to work. 

Then I remembered the dream I had just before waking up:  Robots.  I was walking down a busy city street and I was being pushed along and crowded out by droves and droves of robots.  I was squeezed off the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming car and then I woke up.

I have been a mid-level manager at Stellar Marketing for over five years.  My department was in charge of writing web content.  I supervised a team of geeks, prima donas, and creatives.  You can image how they dressed with an “accept anything and everything” dress code  We work hard, met our deadlines, wrote compelling copy, and had fun doing it. 

I walked into the lobby of our West 35th Avenue high rise and greeted the receptionist at the front desk.  She had a gruesome look on her face, “Hello Mr. Potter.”  I was running late and would just punch in on time if I hurried up the elevator, so I didn’t stop to chat and ask if anything was the matter. 

When I got to the 23rd floor and walked across the lobby past the receptionist, Carolyn, our lead secretary, wasn’t there. Someone else had replaced her.  As I walked past I thought, I may be imagining it, but that sure looks like a robot.  I walked into the break room, which was empty; it was usually packed at this time of the morning.  I made myself a cup of hot tea.

I then headed down the hall to the office where my staff and I worked.  When I surveyed the room, I went into shock:  All of the employee’s cubicles were replaced with new modern stations and staffed with robots, including mine!  I thought, Oh my god, they’ve automated the writing department.  I knew they were working on robots that wrote, but thought it would be years, decades before they’d actually replace people. 

I rushed down the hall to where my fellow manager in Copy Writing worked.

When I opened the door all I saw were ROBOTS!  In a state of panic I moved from

one room to the next, encountering robots wherever I went.  I strode up to one

of them in the billing department, and asked, “What’s happened here, I took a

vacation for two weeks and when I returned, everyone’s been replaced.  Where

can I find a living, breathing manager?”  I got a “clicking, whirring” noise in response.

I returned to the elevator and traveled from floor to floor searching for a

manager.  ROBOTS were everywhere.  Finally after wondering through the building for half an hour I heard a conversation in one of the rooms, so I opened the door. It was Mr. Duffy, the Vice President.  Still in a panic, I said, “Mr Duffy, I went to my office and there were machines sitting at my desk and all the desks of my employees. Robots have replaced my best writers, John Orley, Carol Worthington  and the others.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Fritz, didn’t you get our letter?  We’ve sent them to all the staff.”

“No, I’ve been on vacation for two weeks and had a friend collecting my notices.  Perhaps she missed it.”

“Well, at the last minute, the CEO and the Board of Directors decide to automate.  They said they had to do it to stay competitive.  It’s only me now and a handful of technicians keeping the 3000 machines and robots up and running.  In another year, my job will be replaced as well.

“Come over to my desk, I have your severance check.  Here you go, you’ve used this year’s vacation, but the company was gracious enough to offer everyone two weeks severance pay.  Thank you again, Mr. Potter, for all the years of loyal

service.”

 

 

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Ken Wasil.
Published on e-Stories.org on 02/19/2018.

 

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