What I Learned This Week #3

What I Learned This Week (WILTW) is my way of documenting my learning moments – small and big.

When Robots Replace People

We were at mömax at Wattgasse in Vienna the other week and had the doubtful pleasure of experiencing what it’s like to be served by a robot in Austria.

I did not think much of it until yesterday when I talked to someone who had worked decades in elderly care. The person expressed their anxiety about the possibility of being cared for by a machine. There is a global shortage of workers in the health, education, administration, and literacy (HEAL) professions, which historically have been occupied by women (the natural homemakers, har har). Richard Reeves, the author of “Of Boys and Men,” wrote about destigmatising these jobs as primarily feminine to encourage male participation, which would ultimately lessen the burden of staff shortages.

You can read my review of Reeves’ book on Goodreads – despite my final assessment, it’s still a book worth reading. The author also wrote an interesting article on the very topic of gender stereotypes in HEAL professions.

Back to the little BellaBot cat trolley, which of course spoke in a female voice. We thought it was an interesting gimmick (you will hear excited voices in the background in the video – which is of abhorrent quality, sorry about that). But the robot felt out of place in the 17th district in Vienna, where the distance from the kitchen to the tables was measured in under ten large steps.

I tried to understand the cognitive dissonance I felt and thought back to our trip to Tokyo in 2019, when we did encounter robots in restaurants and in public transport stations. The big difference was in Japan the robots did jobs such as guiding tourists at an airport, which were difficult to tackle human resources-wise, especially when the airports expected an influx of travellers. The automated sushi belt at Genki Sushi in Shibuya linked the kitchen with customer tables, freeing the staff up to manage front of the house and take payments. Here, the cute delivery trolley was not necessary – the waiter who took our order stood aimlessly at the bar, watching the cat whizz past the three occupied tables.

It really seemed like a glimpse into the bleak future, where technology excitement tricks employers into replacing humans with docile robots that won’t ask for sick days.

Stuff I read after my cat-robot encounter:

Bergen, H. (2016). ‘I’d blush if i could’: Digital assistants, disembodied cyborgs and the problem of gender. Word and Text, 6, 95–113. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318233668_’I’d_blush_if_i_could’_Digital_assistants_disembodied_cyborgs_and_the_problem_of_gender

Zuboff, S. (2018). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff | Goodreads (1st ed.). PublicAffairs. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26195941-the-age-of-surveillance-capitalism

100+ Educational and Entertaining Websites

I have a confession to make. I am a hamster. I hoard. But not just everything – I hoard websites that I use for learning or killing time. Here’s a list of websites that I have hoarded because that is what I do.