Tuesday, June 18, 2013

News from the World of Employment

Last weekend, I finally saw the science fiction movie I, Robot, based on Isaac Asimov's collection of connected short stories of the same title.  Asimov established three laws of robotics that are respected by other sci fi writers: 1. Robots cannot harm humans in any way; 2. Robots must obey any order or request from humans unless it would violate the first law; and 3. Robots can defend themselves unless by doing so the robot would violate the first 2 laws.  US Robotics manufactured and programmed the robots so the laws were part of the permanent programming.  The robots, of course, served humanity by doing manual and menial labor, and being personal assistants (I actually could use a housekeeper/cook robot right now). 

We are not so far away from Asimov's vision.  After all, we have Roombas, those cute circular automated vacuum cleaners known to also be pedestals for cats.  I've heard that there are also Roomba-type lawn mowers.  Robots serve law enforcement and the military, going where it's too dangerous for humans to go.  In the current issue of Time Christopher Matthews writes that the creator of the Roomba now wants to populate offices with robots.  This brings to mind Sheldon Cooper on CBS' The Big Bang Theory deciding to interact with the world through his computer attached to a moving stand while he sat in his bedroom, safe from germs and other aggravations of modern life.  His "remote Sheldon" proved annoying to everyone he encountered.  I wonder how annoying robots in the office environment would be?

But it's not for lower level employees!  The robot will actually be the boss!  Isn't that just what we all wanted?  Its name is Ava, and it's used primarily for conferencing.  However, it can move at up to 3.3 feet per second, and can hear a speaker from up to half a mile away.  No hiding from this thing, folks!  First we had outsourcing which caused a painful loss of American jobs.  Now, robots.

In the meantime, the AARP has published again this year it's top 50 employers for baby boomers, i.e. people over 50 years old.  The Today Show covered this list earlier today, talking about all the advantages to hiring someone over 50, for their experience, knowledge, ideas, and skills.  The problem I've found in my very own job search, however, is that Corporate America and a lot of small businesses don't want to hire older workers because they are more expensive, i.e. they can command higher pay.  In the long run, these workers are less likely to have high turnover, need less training, and end up being a bargain.  It's just as expensive if not more so to deal with a high turnover rate of your employees.  You may be able to pay them less than more experienced workers, but you lose in productivity.  So, why aren't more companies hiring people over 50, for god's sake?

And then there's the ultimate cheap employee that costs only $2000 - $2500 once, needs no benefits, provides high productivity, but needs both IT and mechanical maintenance... AVA, the Roboboss!  Will it have in its permanent programming Asimov's 3 laws of robotics?

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