Gainesville Ramblings

This is a blog, and thus it barely qualifies as writing, let alone formal writing, so I'd not let it bother you.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Robot Work

In Antarctica by Kim Stanely Robinson, one of the main characters is a low-level worker. When a forklift knocks over a bunch of drawers full of nuts, screws, and washers of various sizes, the character is tasked with the job of sorting this enormous pile out. He thinks to himself, after day three of this ordeal, that this is robot work, something that in a perfect world, a sentient being wouldn't have to do. Unfortunately, robots are too clumsy and too stupid to do things like this yet.

I am now doing Robot Work.

Robot Work is defined, by me at least, as a job that requires no thinking. Mindless repetition is par for the course. At no time should the person doing Robot Work be forced to use any intelligence or make any decisions. A person does not require education to do these jobs, but ironically, you often need quite a good education to actually get the jobs that give you nothing but Robot Work.

This is a list of the projects I've been given recently:

  • Scan old agreements into the computer. This involves using the Xerox Workcenter, so it at least went fairly quickly.
  • Shred old agreements. The shredder is very old and very picky. It jams often.
  • In the database, change the links to files, which involved opening up nearly 1000 entries and adding one exclamation point (!)

At no point during this entire time was I required to use my brain. At no point did I actually think. The only thing that makes this bearable is the fact that this is a temporary stop on my path, and that the people in the office are very nice and fun. But still, it’s frustrating. I know I'm lucky, I at least get to do my robot work in the air conditioning. Most people in the world do nothing but robot work for their entire lives. Mindless boring work. And they learn to live with it. I hope I never do.

Of course, me being me and having a lot of spare mental time, I start to think about a time when robots aren't stupid and clumsy. A time when human beings will be free to do the thinking, the exploring, the things that require a brain. Of course, a side effect of that is that the world's economy collapses into a vicious cycle of starvation, riot and war. Since most of the world does robot work, if robots and semi-sentient programs are there to do it, people are out of jobs, they can't buy things, and everything goes to hell. If that does happen, I hope previous goal of colonizing Mars has already been achieved.


On a completely different note, I found myself bored today at work, so I started reading the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. It’s amazing to read. Here are two political rivals, who attack each other viciously, and I’m pretty sure they don’t like each other. But they still manage to treat each other with respect and dignity.

But even more amazing is the audience. The people who are listening to these speeches are stunning to a modern reader. They are involved, not afraid to laugh, applaud, shout at the speakers, make jokes with them, and basically become involved. Check this exchange out:

MR. LINCOLN- I hope you will permit me to read a part of a printed speech that I made then at Peoria, which will show altogether a different view of the position I took in that contest of 1854.

VOICE-"Put on your specs."

MR. LINCOLN-Yes, sir, I am obliged to do so. I am no longer a young man. [Laughter.]

I just don’t see that happening anymore. Read them if you have a few days to kill, as they aren’t short. But I think they’re entirely worth it. American political rhetoric at its best.


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