Meet Baxter, a robotic employee that mimics facial expressions | nnbw.com
Ronni Hannaman
Executive Director, Carson City Chamber of Commerce

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Meet Baxter, a robotic employee that mimics facial expressions

Baxter, a robot, works on a stenner pump.

As the talk of minimum — or training — wage heats up across the country and talks of the future of medical benefits, workmen’s comp, retirement, equal pay, Social Security, transgender bathroom use, and more heats up within legislative bodies, those with the incredible brains to create machines with artificial intelligence to mimic humans quietly sit behind their computers creating robots that will take over so many tasks it makes you wonder about the future of the human workforce — and that is most of us — who don’t have the amazing engineering minds to survive the onslaught of robots.

Soon, your workmate may be a robot — some even with human tendencies. Manufacturers are increasingly relying on robots to do those tedious jobs most humans prefer not to do, no matter how well paid.

Robots tend to be far less expensive than their human counterparts and ready to work at the push of a button. They don’t need lunch or coffee breaks, willingly take commands at the touch of a key, lift weights no human could, and don’t complain about repetitive tasks. They don’t know what a holiday is and, when temporarily out of commission, can readily be restored to functionality. They don’t even know their gender.

Many of today’s manufacturers rely heavily on robots to perform tasks faster and more precisely than humans. Basalite Concrete Products in Carson City is home to a hard-working crew of robots doing the heavy lifting it takes to build blocks and can easily run 24/7, if there is the need. Currently, it still takes humans to program the bots and oversee their computers.

The automotive and airplane industry has long used robots to make cars faster and cheaper. Robots don’t need unions.

Robots will be prevalent in hospitals, medical centers and nursing homes and are in use already by doctors to perform sensitive and less invasive surgery. Expect to see robot aides to assist human nurses to lift patients, deliver medications, drop off and deliver lab samples and reports and conduct routine patient monitoring. It might not be the nurse who wakes you up every four hours to take blood pressure.

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On the agriculture side, Lettuce Bot helps thin out weak seedlings on farms — currently a back-breaking task. Food processing will be done by robots, and currently in development is a bot that can fully debone a chicken.

Humanoid robots are already being used in the classrooms in some Asian countries to teach English.

In 2012, Baxter, the industrial robot created by Rethink Robotics, was introduced. What makes this bot so unique is the facial expressions, one of which can look confused if something is not working right, thus alerting a human. Baxter was introduced to allow small and medium companies the opportunity to mechanize.

The downside? The Harvard Business Review writes, “We will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century.”

Some form of household robots has been around for a while. Roomba cleans our floors, Scooba cleans and washes them, Robomow moves our lawns, Nanda Clocky alarm clock runs away if you try to push the snooze button more than once – and you’ll have to find it to turn it off! Scary Siri is eagerly listening for your every command. Our cell phones can lock doors. Drones deliver products. And, so much more.

The United States internationally ranks #9 in the use of industrial robots. South Korea (#1) and Japan (#2) use the most robots per 10,000 people employed in manufacturing. Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots,” warns artificial intelligence and robotics will soon overhaul our economy.

The Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif., now uses 160 industrial robots to assemble 400 cars a week and though the talk is of employing thousands in the Storey County TRIC plant — initially — these numbers just might not pan out. Here’s a headline most may have missed: On Nov. 8, 2016, Tesla announced that it had “reached an agreement to acquire German firm Grohmann Engineering with the intent to more fully automate its factories and boost production of Teslas, especially the anticipated Model 3.”

Tomorrow’s workforce will be quite different. The jobs of the future go to those with the minds to create, perfect and repair the bots. The rest of us? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see where and how we fit in.