Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

Bring Your Robot to Work

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: telepresence robots, science and technology, Technology Review, Will Wlizlo,

anybotsRobots have been a presence in the modern workplace for decades, but soon your average nine-to-fiver may not just be working alongside automatons, reports Technology Review (February 2011). People might be working for them.

This isn’t just a paranoid, hyperbolic prophecy of the Matrix-esque dystopian future. (Admittedly, there’s a little bit of hyperbole.) But far more ominous than a few human workers replaced by machines at a warehouse, startup companies like Vgo Communications, Anybots, and Willow Garage are developing “telepresence robots” that allow supervisors to monitor and interact with their employees from afar. A video camera and digital display sit atop a stick-thin body, and the whole unit scoots around like a Roomba. Outwardly, they seem like adorable, roving teleconference machines, but I can’t help thinking of Big Brother.

According to Technology Review, “Some of the earliest adopters are bosses who want to see and be seen by their underlings at any given time,” and further, “[A] Vgo owner uses the robot to inspect goods rolling off production lines in China.” What would stop a manager from firing slow assembly line employees from the safety of his laptop in the comfort of a first-class airplane seat? Absolutely nothing.

Source: Technology Review (full article available with registration)

Image courtesy of Anybots.