Dystopia through technology
We used to have two young men riding the back of the garbage truck roaring down our street once a week. They threw off the lids, grabbed the cans, hurled the contents into the back of the truck, and back onto our driveways again -- in a smooth fluid motion that was a joy to watch.
On special occasions, like Christmas or April Fools, they'd wear funny hats, and always give a cheery hello to onlookers. Sometime they'd stack the empty cans in artistic ways.
Then the city went automatic. Garbage trucks are outfitted with claw-like devices that grab a can, lift it into the air, and then shake the contents into the back of the truck. Being a wanna-be green city, we have three sets of diesel-spewing trucks roaming about, one each to take in compost, recyclables, and garbage.
What's fascinating to see is how the city eliminated the jobs of two young men for a less-capable robot. Here's what went wrong:
- Cans must be spaced at least 1m apart, blocking half my driveway each week. (Humans can handle cans that are bunched together.)
- Cans must be placed specific distances away from shrubs and overhanging trees. (Humans aren't bothered by those.)
- Extra humans must be employed to periodically cruise our streets to inspect the contents of the compost, recyclables, and garbage bins to ensure homeowners are sorting correctly. (The young men did that as part of their jobs.)
- Failure to follow strict rules can lead to loss of service.
- Minor irritant: the lids of the new bins slam back into place automatically, so we are never sure when the garbage has been collected. (Humans used to flip the lids upside down, as a signal.)
- During the autumn, under the old rules, we could have up to ten huge paper bags filled with leaves and other yard waste; now we're limited to one compost bin, because the robot arm cannot handle paper bags.
I was reminded of how going forward with technology goes backwards in human service with an article that described the problem that self-driving taxis isn't solving. In short, all they eliminate is the cost of the driver, in exchange for losing the human-based security system, the ability to optimize gas tank refilling, and so on. The cost of the robot cars is about 5x higher than a regular vehicle adapted to taxi service -- or, in the case of Uber, no extra hardware needed at all.
And it reminds me of some Silicon Valley startup wanting to eliminate jobs at recycling centers to automate through technology the sorting. I'm sorry, but I gotta call them idiots, as they don't understand what eliminating humans does. I have an adult adopted cousin with elementary-school-level of intelligence who tells me proudly of his job going down the road each day to work at the recycling center.
The inhumanity of some technological directions is discouraging. Robots aren't cheery ever, even when they have painted faces.