Robots are increasingly replacing human workers in manufacturing tasks here assembling washing machinesmdashGetty ImagesAndreas Rentz

Robots are increasingly replacing human workers in manufacturing tasks, here assembling washing machines.—Getty Images/Andreas Rentz

Can we trust our water filter to order its own replacement?

In the 1943 musical hit, “Oklahoma” (still running somewhere today), one of the songs goes, “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City — they’ve gone about as far as they can go.”

Robotic devices are increasingly being used on automobile assembly lines.—Getty Images/Junko Kimora

Eighty-odd years later, when refrigerators, toasters, TVs, heating/cooling systems, and other electronic appliances/devices are internet savvy, cars can (in a fashion) drive themselves, and farm systems and machinery are able to do all manner of wondrous things, we’ve become pretty much blasé about developments in digital technology.

Until, that is, we learn that the mail order behemoth Amazon.com and Brita, the Clorox company that makes the ubiquitous pitcher that filters yucky-tasting stuff out of drinking water, now offer a wi-fi enabled version that will connect to Amazon and order its own replacement.

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“The future of hydration is here,” says a promo for the $44.99 Infinity pitcher that “tracks your usage and automatically notifies Amazon when a new filter is almost due.”

Well, that’s cool. But just how far can I trust my self-diagnosing water filter? What if it gets lonely and decides to order a gross of filters to gossip with? Does it have carte blanche with my credit card?

Humor aside, the thing about this is that it’s just another step in the ongoing evolution of taking humans out of the decision-making/manpower loop, all the while eliminating jobs.

Few of us would relinquish all of the technology now at our command, but at the same time we don’t give much thought to the jobs that are vanishing.

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Example: Foxconn, a Chinese company that is a supplier to Apple and Samsung, is reported by the BBC to have cut its work force by an astounding 60,000 people by incorporating robots into its production operations. Hundreds of Chinese factories are investing in robotic systems.

Another Chinese company, Changying Precision Technology, has a factory run almost entirely by robots. It slashed employee numbers from 650 to only 60, and boosted output, with fewer defects. It says it will eventually have just 20 employees.

While companies in China, Europe, the U.S., and other industrialized nations spin these moves as freeing workers for more “creative” endeavors, the reality is that the future will see ever fewer workers in the world’s manufacturing arena.

 

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