Popular Science has an interesting article about the development of a robot in Germany that grills sausages and apparently does a pretty good job of it. So what, you say? Here’s what: the German robot shows just how easy it is for robotics to eliminate jobs. And, since robotics mostly focuses on performing basic, ministerial tasks, the jobs that are eliminated tend to be entry-level jobs — the kinds of jobs that many of us had as our first jobs, back when we were teenagers. Whether it is grilling sausages, flipping burgers, washing dishes, or bagging groceries (which was my first job), we’re likely to see increasing robotic inroads, which means fewer jobs for kids trying to earn some spare money so they can take their significant other on a date or go to the prom.
If you’re the owner of a sausage restaurant, why wouldn’t you use a robot instead of a teenage kid? The robot in the Popular Science article has a natty moustache and is wearing a chef’s hat, apparently issues some German witticisms as he grills, and will never, ever complain about working conditions or fail to show up for work on time. You wouldn’t have to pay for health care, perform withholding, or worry about unionization. And, since we all remember the personality issues that inevitably afflict the teenager years, you wouldn’t have to deal with sullen, hormone-addled employees, either.
When robots take over those “first jobs” that many of us had, I think it will have a profound impact. I thought getting that first job was an important step on the road to adulthood, where I jarringly realized that not everybody is going to treat me with kid gloves like my parents did. If teenagers can’t get a first job, how are they going to get a sense of the working world, and how are they going to stay out of trouble?