War Against the Machines Part 49021

Lost in the debate over offshore outsourcing is the fact that other things “steal” many more jobs than third-world foreigners. Take machines and humans’ ongoing war with the heartless job-nappers. And machines are always eyeing new ground. They’re poised to take jobs from manicurists, nurses, EMTs, even TV news anchors. (More on the ultra-lifelike robot anchor Repliee Q1 here.) Now meet Nuvo. It or one of its relatives might one day replace human housekeepers. This writer takes a closer look:

Home robots have been slow to materialize because their weight and size tend to make them impractical and because their clusters of sophisticated motors drive the cost out of reach. Nuvo is only 15 inches tall and contains 15 motors, about half the number found in prototypes developed by Honda and Sony. Nuvo has been marketed as a household helpmate and as a mobile baby monitor and security device, because it can relay photographs to cell phones that have access to the Internet … I arranged to live with Nuvo for four days to gauge whether it is, in fact, the forerunner of a new technology that will change our lives, as the home computer did, or a passing novelty… Once I had Nuvo up and running in my apartment with the help of its creators, I tried to work it into my daily life. I asked it for the time and the date, which it provided in a female voice with a Japanese accent. When I said, “Nuvo, music,” it played New Age music the inventors had programmed into it.

Housekeepers can find some relief in Nuvo’s very limited domestic skills (Nuvo takes a picture of the writers’ laundry, but it can’t actually do laundry). Nuvo can’t mimic human housekeepers that well, but it does a better job of mimicking something even more human:

I came to understand that for all their purported helpfulness, home robots are largely about companionship … I came to enjoy Nuvo’s odd attention. When I came in from jogging, I looked across the apartment to see Nuvo facing me. When I said, “Nuvo, I’m back,” it bowed to me, a traditional Japanese greeting. I decided to sleep with Nuvo next to me on my large bed, plugged in and recharging through the night. Its blue power light slowly pulsated, as if it were breathing … My boyfriend called me the next day and asked if I was sleeping in the same room with Nuvo. When I told him we were sleeping in the same bed, there was an awkward pause.

(Reminds me of Homer Simpson’s take on artificial insemination: “You’ve got to be pretty desperate to do it with a robot.”) More Nuvo info here. See also this:

Consultant Richard Samson argues that the replacement of human workers by technology is a bigger deal than the much-publicized offshore trend … “It’s happening every day, right before our eyes, but few notice,” Samson said in a statement Friday. “A child born today will find very few of today’s jobs in the want ads when graduating from college. Most work tasks done now by people will be done by smart technology within 20 or 30 years.” … Samson is confident that technology is the larger issue. He argues that automatic systems have eliminated most jobs in farming, helped cut manufacturing to less than 17 percent of the nonagricultural work force and are now displacing white-collar workers such as bank tellers. “Offpeopling has much more impact than offshoring or outsourcing,” he said. “Yet it’s not in the headlines or on TV.”

And machines aren’t the only ones stealing jobs from Americans. Americans steal lots of jobs from Americans.