Baxter the Robot Will Make Your Life Easier, Until You Have No Life

Rethink Robotics promo fails to reassure

Just in time for the Nostradamus Apocalypse, Rethink Robotics will ship a twin-clawed, $22,000 workaholic hunk of steel and circuitry called Baxter, which the Boston-based company says signals a breakthrough in mechanized labor. Unlike most industrial robots, which are kept far from tender flesh and easily broken bones, Baxter is designed to toil in close quarters with people, and the bot's promotional clip and attendant press coverage dwell on its many safety features. Baxter moves slowly, and its video-screen face (cute in a nightmarish, Orwellian way) turns red to let approaching humans know it can sense their presence. Yeah, that sounds reassuring. Someone call the shop steward, stat! That is, while there's still a shop steward to call. The video notes that Baxter is designed to help U.S. firms "compete with low-cost offshore labor," but takes pains to explain that, like all potentially people-replacing technologies, Baxter won't replace people. Perish the thought! We're told the unit is designed to "learn" new tasks quickly without complex programming, "so the people working with Baxter get a promotion from working on repetitive mundane tasks to supervising robots that do them." Why, yes, of course. That is exactly what will happen! Baxter's skills include materials handling, light assembly, line loading and unloading … crap, that last one sounds too close to blogging for comfort! Plus, the thing is touted as operating with "common sense," which, according to my last six performance reviews, I'm sorely lacking! Soon these bots won't even need people to oil their metallic mandibles—we'll show them how, then they'll do it better themselves. And that spells the end of humanity. Way to go, Rethink Robotics!