Racism, Chairs, and the Silver Set – This week in the #RoboApoc

This semi-weekly feature scours the internets for news of the Robot Apocalypse (#RoboApoc). I rate each item on a scale of 1 to Skynet

These kids are using tech to create a better world.
These kids are using tech to create a better world.

1. There’s an app for that. A family of Georgia teens created Five-O, an app that allows people to rate their interactions with the police. The people who conceptualized and designed the app – Caleb, Ima, and Ahsa Christian – range in age from 14 to 18.

#RoboApoc Rating – 1. Given the recent killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson, MO. police officer Darren Wilson, this app is super timely. Any app that makes it easier to hold people in power accountable is great. And the fact that this app was designed by teenagers means we may have a new generation of tech savvy freedom fighters on our side, the robots haven’t won yet. 

2. Wearable chairs? A Zurich based start up called noonee has developed the chairless chair. Basically you strap a couple of exoskeleton legs on, and when you drop into sitting position it they will take you weight. This ridiculous CNN article, which actually dives into the health concerns of sitting all day, proclaims you can even run with the wearable chair strapped to your legs. 

#RoboApoc Rating – 1. The promotion video above explains how the wearable chair is good for employees (keeps them injury free) and employers (keeps workers injury free and efficient), the only problem is they show a factory worker on an assembly line. Ha. Humans don’t work on assembly lines (in the US), robots do.


friendly robots

4. Human friendly. The 7th International Workshop on Human Friendly Robotics is happening in Pisa, Italy in October.  I learned about the workshop when I was researching CYBERLegs (more about cybernetic legs in a forthcoming posts). Apparently the workshop will address, “The technological shift from classical industrial robots, which are safely kept away from humans in cages, to robots, which are used in close collaboration with humans.”

#RoboApoc Rating – SKYNET! If there is a workshop to intentionally talk about  Human Friendly Robotics there must a be a fairly large trend of Not Friendly Human Robotics, and by looking at the webpage for this workshop, the friendly side could use some help.

5. The Silver Set. In an article for Harpers Magazine this month, journalist Jessica Bruder writes about the growing trend of seniors who take to the highways in RV’s and campers in search of seasonal work. In an interview with Alternet Bruder mentions CamperForce, an Amazon.com program that specifically recruits “work campers” for seasonal work in the company. Beyond the insanity of making seniors give up their homes and roam the country in search of work, there is the added old news that Amazon.com (two years ago) bought Kiva Systems Inc., a integrated warehouse management system that includes robots that follow stickers on the floor bringing products to pickers and packers.

#RoboApoc Rating – 8. The semi-robotization of what was previously considered unrobotizable (because of the human spacial relations skill that robots can’t replicate) is frightening enough. Combine this technological advancement with pushing vulnerable seniors back into the workforce and you have what many are predicting is the future of work in this country – temporary, contingent, precarious, seasonal. What is most troubling about this is that as technology rapidly evolves and companies keep up; workers, the organizations that traditionally protect workers, policy, and culture are not moving quickly enough. The robots are already here, and they are making our jobs easier and less.





Sweet Sweet Greed

Thirteen days after a manager at a Pennsylvania sugar plant –  fearing slowed production – removed a safety-device from a massive sugar hopper,  Janio Salinas – a temp-worker from New Jersey – climbed in. He and fellow workers needed to continue bagging sugar for companies such as Snapple, and clumps were clogging the funnel hole at the bottom of the hopper. When his co-workers returned from lunch no one could find Janio. He had been buried alive and suffocated in the hopper.

Photo: Andrew Burton/ Getty Images
Photo: Andrew Burton/ Getty Images

This story was reported by ProPublica and Univision earlier this week. It is the result of a several-months long investigation by Univision, in which they sent producers undercover into temp agencies in immigrant neighborhoods in NJ.

After seeing the closing day of the #KaraWalkerDomino exhibit  A Subtlety (read more about it herehere and here) I am struck by gruesome realism of Janio’s death, and the symbolic significance of it.

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This week in the #RoboApoc*

Liz Stinson over at Wired reported on self-assembling robots that create furniture on demand. The basic idea is that these module and mobile robots can self-assemble into different forms or furniture, and can even create supplements to existing furniture.

It is fun to fantasize about what this means for personal use: small robots attaching themselves to my coffee table so it can serve drinks at my next dinner party (how nouveau bourgie, a butler without all the classist implications); my robot furniture rearranging itself  into futuristic configurations that are both beautiful and functional (IKEA beware).

Continue reading “This week in the #RoboApoc*”