The Robots Are Coming! Part 1

In keeping with my temporary/permanent “eschew bitching about politics” initiative I’m going to point out a place of agreement between me (a deplorable, fire-breathing, small “l” libertarian, who clings to his guns and religion) and the most hippy-rific, socialist, dreadlocked, trustifarian, coastalite, to wander the streets of Seattle. I’m all about highlighting common ground. Kumbaya and all that. Group hug y’all!

Here’s the thing we both agree upon:

We both believe if the minimum wage gets high enough, awesome things will happen.

Whoa now, step away from the keyboard. Let me finish because the “awesome thing” is different to each of us. They want unicorn money and I want robots.

The standard Marxist ideal is that when minimum wage hits some magic number, rainbows and love will make everyone healthy, wealthy, and fulfilled. The exact value of this perfect minimum wage appears to be whatever minimum wage is now plus 10%. I presume it’ll always be plus 10%. When it comes to tweaking the economy, the perpetual answer to “how much” is “more”. Nonetheless, they’re entitled to their opinion and (with fits and starts as politics ebb and flow) seem intent on repeating the experiment until they get the answer they demand.

I see an upper limit to that experiment but I’m willing to let someone else who lives far away give it (yet) another self-inflicted shot. As their managed economy experiments continue I’ll apologize if I was wrong and everyone magically gets rich. Then I’ll move there and get rich too.

On the other hand, if my theories on economics are correct, I’ll enjoy schadenfreude and bacon sandwiches on my homestead while folks in Seattle/Venezuela/San Francisco/Vermont pay $18 for a cappuccino to wash down the $23 big mac they bought on the way to their $20/hour part time minimum wage job at the bong factory.

My hope is different. I expect that when minimum wage hits some very high level it’ll make robots unquestionably cost effective. When that happens, they’ll appear everywhere. (In particular there’s one kind of robot I’ll mention in part 2.)

I love robots! I’m not talking about the scary industrial arms that make car doors in Detroit. I’m talking about stuff that doesn’t even look like a robot but makes my life as a consumer… better.

I base this on robots that have already infiltrated our lives. Here are two examples:

The first ubiquitous robot is ATMs. Remember life before ATMs? (Some readers may have to ask an old person. Hint: old people don’t bite… usually.) Back then you had to plan ahead for the limited hours the bank was open, navigate the bank parking lot, trudge into a fussy looking building which highlighted an irrelevant but impressive safe door behind the counters, fill out a little slip of paper, and wait in line with 40 other grumpy people. Eventually your turn came and a kindly octogenarian grandma would count out your cash and send you on your way. (Some readers may have to ask an old person about “cash”.)

Pre-robot, elapsed time to grab enough cash for a night of binge drinking? Forty five minutes.

That ended 25 years ago. It was cratered by the ATM (which has already been largely replaced by point of sale card readers). The ATM, a soulless calculator cemented into a wall that spits out your cash in 30 seconds, very rarely makes an error and is open most of the time. (Yes, ATMs sometimes mess up but I’m sure they’re more accurate than the bank of my youthful memories.) Post robot elapsed time to grab enough cash for a night of binge drinking? Thirty seconds. (In the post ATM cashless world you just start drinking. If you maintain enough sense to hurl your debit card at the bartender before you slide under the barstool it’s all good.)

ATMs are cheaper than humans. Which is fine with me because I prefer ATMs to humans. The money counting robot wins.

Want another example? Back in the stone age you’d buy gas at what was then called “full service”. In 1940 that might have meant a mechanic checking your oil but by 1970 it was a flunky in company overalls who barely made eye contact while slopping leaded gas all over your rusting piece of Detroit crap. (Possibly an AMC Gremlin which would be partially dissolved by it.) “Full service” was degraded as an idea. You wouldn’t ask the attendant to check your oil, they wouldn’t do it anyway, and if they did they might put their own eye out. Now, we all pump your own gas. (Except for people in Oregon who are deemed by state law to be too stupid to operate a fuel pump. Those poor souls pay big time for the flunky that pumps gas.)

The fuel kiosk robot is simple. Step out of the car, swipe your card on the pump (convenience store owners sure didn’t like that new technology!), get your gas, and get the hell back on the road. Like the ATM it’s not perfect. Sometimes it’s snowing, sometimes it’s raining, it’s impersonal, and you have to stand outside your car like an idiot. So what? It’s efficient and cheap… which is just how I like it. If I want a companion to hang out with me while I buy fuel, I’ll put my dog in the truck.

I prefer automated pumps to humans. The gas kiosk robot wins.

All this pales compared to the vision I have of the future. First mentioned as an aside in The Stainless Steel Rat is Born, a book I read three decades ago, I’ve been waiting for it’s arrival. The time is nigh! I’m convinced it hovers on the horizon somewhere between $15 and $18 minimum wage. (Depending on the inflation which everyone pretends isn’t happening.)

More on my hopes later…


P.S. For the folks who’ve read The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born the key is the McSwiney’s where the Bishop hid out:

About AdaptiveCurmudgeon

Adaptive Curmudgeon is handsome, brave, and wise.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Robots Are Coming! Part 1

  1. Mark Matis says:

    Just how much will your ATMs let you withdraw at one time? Down here in the racist southland, we run into the Billy limit – $300 in 20s. The tellers at my banks will let me take out around $1000 in whatever bills I want. And I’m not sure which fine financial institution you used to frequent, but both of my banks get me through in less than 10 minutes, with a norm of under 5 minutes. I take it you’ve never been to an ATM where there is someone twiddling with their purse, trying to find the PIN for the card they’ve already stuffed into the ATM? Only to realize that card is from a different bank? I find that ATMs are no faster than human tellers when the “speshul” types are trying to use them…

    I will admit, however, that said ATM will let me withdraw up to that same $300 at any time of day or night. But I have also never seen a teller that’s been hacked with a device to get my card number and PIN and sell that to the Clintons…

  2. Rob says:

    It’s been a long time since i read the Stainless Steel Rat series.. but you were talking of robots. (Humans need not apply), robots only need to make fewer mistakes, they always show up on the Monday after the SuperBowl but they don’t buy a lot of pizzas, pants or cars.
    Sounds like the “interesting times” curse or maybe the one about “be careful of what you wish for”.

  3. Call T. Don says:

    People in Oregon aren’t so stupid that they can’t pump their own gas…..its that they don’t want to. When i did live there (they have other issues as a state) the prices were usually lower than most anywhere I went……. but that may be influenced by the fact they are just dumb enough not to suck money out of you for sales tax like so many states see fit. If there is something that needs correcting its this double or triple taxation our “leaders” see fit to saddle us with almost everywhere else in regard to this tax. For all the reasons you contridict yourself later on about, I never wanted to pump my own gas. I don’t go get and cook my own food in a restaurant either. If I wanted that I’d stay home and make it myself. Gas is available in bulk pump your own if one so desired.

    All for robots if they can do it with less hassle but convenience always costs one way or another it seems. The price is usually whatever the market will bear with the savings going to the corporation. Short term maybe lower cost but once every gas station has one, then prices creep. Grocery store price have made little adjustment downward since installing self check outs. At most stores there is someone monitoring that thing all the time while simultaniousy ignoring their customers anyhow.

    Spot on with the minimum wage thing…..always just readjusts prices to a higher level to compensate, negating any gain in real wages. Sad, but no matter how many times its done, liberals will never connect the dots.

    Awesome blog….always makin me think

    • AdaptiveCurmudgeon says:

      I don’t care so much about pumping gas versus “full service” but I loathe being banned from pumping my own gas. That’s why I phrase it negatively. I realize Oregon does it as a jobs program (and presumably to “keep mom and pop gas stations behind the eight ball”). But when people in 49 states can do something and folks 1 state can’t I like to use the phrase “too stupid”. I like the juxtaposition. When I was in Maine, people were too stupid to shop on Sunday (blue laws) and in Massachusetts people are too stupid to do many things with a gun, and people in California… well you get the point.

      As with all laws there are “edge cases” where mandatory full service is a huge PITA. Plus I’m practically a walking edge case. (Maybe that’s why I am a bit of a libertarian?)

      My first story is that I once owned a big very old truck that never vented properly. You had to pause while filling to let the tank “burp”. (It takes 5 seconds to shut off the gas flow, remove and reinsert the pump handle and start again. Not a large problem.) I crossed the country in the truck and it was no big deal. Then I hit Oregon and attendants were completely unable to handle the mental load. You’d think I was trying to explain nuclear physics! I’d say “you can’t leave it on ‘autofill’ or it’ll shut off when the tank is half full”. I’d be speaking English and pronounce it carefully and look them in the eye and speak very slowly. The gas flunky would nod like a sentient being but I was talking to a brick. They’d jam the pump in and put it on auto just like I’d told them not to. When it clicked off 30 seconds later they’d tell me my massive truck was topped off; needing only two gallons. So I’d describe the situation just like I’d already done. They’d nod again just like they’d already done. They’d ignore everything I said and six second later be back at my door telling me that the truck was full now and it needed only four gallons. Sometimes it would take several cycles; two gallons at a time and the flunky never figured it out.

      The other edge case is a motorcycle. One time I rode my motorcycle through the east-side on a Sunday and damn near wound up sleeping by the side of the road because nobody had a gas station open on a Sunday evening. (Motorcycle gas tanks are relatively small.) Finally I found one. Whew! I rolled up on fumes and, still straddling my bike, reached for the pump. (I’d forgotten I was in Oregon.) The flunky came running and snatched the handle out of my hands. As he was explaining the state law he missed the tank and spilled gas all over my hot engine. He fumbled letting go of the “trigger” and spilled another gallon all over my crotch. The poor kid was mortified! He was sure that the big bad biker was going to step off his machine and break his inept little body into little pieces. I was wondering if the exhaust pipe was hot enough to ignite the gas and if so what would it feel like to have your balls vaporized in an explosion? In the meantime the dude was apologizing a mile a minute and started wiping up the spilled gas with a dirty rag. Then he realized he was inadvertently dabbing a rag at some dude’s crotch and about passed out. He turned three shades of white! Finally I stepped off the bike, gave a big belly laugh and assured the guy he was going to live, and then cleaned up the mess. Funny part is that I’ve ridden everywhere and the only messy gas spill happened at the hands of a “professional”.

      I sold the truck and after that trip I installed an “auxiliary tank” on my bike.

    • thorshammer11 says:

      Call T…. The difference between the Curmudgeon’s version and your warped perception of the situation lies in the ‘driving’ force behind the regulatory stipulation that one must have a ‘professional’ pump their gas.. The alternative being what the rest of the country calls the “UNREGULATED” version of the same scenario where one simply does it themselves at some market influenced (and set) reduced rate (b/c the ‘idiot’ doesn’t have to be paid in the second case: after all, ECON 101 principles ALWAYS apply). If it were a full service vs. self serve ‘choice’ (as I have seen in MY past), and consumers selected the level of service they desired, then I (and the Curmudgeon) wouldn’t have an issue, YOUR dollars and YOUR choice.. but we ALL know where that would lead, right??? (see OTHER 49 states for irrefutable evidence).
      My problem lies with the MANDATE from an elected talking head that market forces and the desires of ‘the people’ are to be ignored and even contradicted in order to push some social/economic or ‘other’ agenda.
      The market ALWAYS wins… Friedman and Hayek were quintessentially correct with regards to that altruism.

  4. Kurt says:

    I don’t mind dealing with “robots” of the ATM sort. Don’t want one preparing my food though. I still remember roulette wheel of ptomaine that automats were. So I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t patronize the slop shops labeled fast food these daze. I do however enjoy all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the short bus riders who voted for a $15 minimum wage when companies have to cut positions or raise prices because of their votes. Action meet Consequence.

  5. Easily Amused says:

    Last time I was in Massachusetts they still required full service by law too. However, I’ve never seen a world without ATMs. You should check out the Vespa GITA, I can’t wait to get that sherpa robot.

    • AdaptiveCurmudgeon says:

      Is the sherpa that doglike robot thing? I want one right now! Especially if it can portage a canoe!

      • Easily Amused says:

        No, its cylindrical. The prototype is blue with a tire wrapping each end. Reminds me of the Astromechs in Star Wars. The dog one is really cool, but won’t be viable for the market for a very long time. But when it comes available, I’d want one for hiking. The GITA looks like it’d be great for women shopping in the mall, or to carry the cooler around while in the park or beach.

  6. Phil B says:

    Ahh … Yes. Porcuswine. I wonder if it tastes like chicken? (Intergalactic chicken, of course).

    Harry Harrison is an interesting author From the details he throws into the storyline of the Stainless Steel rat, I am certain that he’s more than casually familiar with undercover work and escape and evasion.

    • AdaptiveCurmudgeon says:

      Plus he’s delightfully irreverent for the young teen boy reader. I recommend Slippery Jim as a cure for what ails smart bored school kids.

  7. thorshammer11 says:

    BTW.. Curmudge… this Post borders on political ‘think’ (but you already know that)… I’m just sayin’. I have missed ‘it’ as it is a major consideration in what routinely brings me to your site.. but for someone lookin’ to “eschew bitching about politics”… this one is a pretty thin veiled attempt. I (personally) think you miss it (the politics).. and I wish you’d get back to (openly) expounding on it.. but that is just me.

    The Hammer of Thor 🙂

    • AdaptiveCurmudgeon says:

      Fell off the bandwagon. No to worry; tomorrow is all squirrels.

      I do miss the feeling that bitching about politics was vaguely logical or at least fun. More like a discussion among adults about issues we all ponder and less like a Facebook witch hunt. However, we’re still at or near peak bullshit and until (if?) the zeitgeist calms the hell down I thought it a small good deed to cut down on my contribution to it.

      The reason for the timing of this post is that I wanted it on record for when the first robot hamburgers go large. This may be slightly delayed now but it’s one of those “sooner or later” things and 2017 is a good a guess as any (at least in some areas). I’m about the only guy I know who’s in favor of robot McDonalds.

      • Phil B says:

        I’d be happy if they had attendants that didn’t have a “baked beans on toast” complexion and could communicate in grunts marginally more intelligible than a mentally retarded chimpanzee …

        But a robot delivering the food with a mechanical “Have a nice day” would be acceptable too.

  8. Tennessee Budd says:

    I think we’re about at the point where robots are cheap enough to replace humans for assembling burgers, tacos (esp. hard-shelled), etc.I spoke to a burger-franchise owner 10 or so years ago who told me such machines were available & pretty reliable, given proper input (there’s the rub–a human still has to tell it what to do; maybe keep a human for special orders?), and were almost affordable.
    I’ve heard interest went up with Obamacare. The $15/hr bullshit has to have spurred that further. With the proliferation of touch-screen technology, how long before you roll up to McWenDees, select your order via touchscreen (or smartphone hookup? that could cover payment as well), the machines fill that order, & a meat drone hands you your filled order?
    A lot of fast-food places here have gone to two drive-up lanes rather than the old standard one. (That’s probably not new, but we’re the South; we didn’t get the ’60s until 1974 or so.) Why not a smart-phone-order-only line?

Leave a Reply