Listening to the radio today, I heard part of Public Radios “The World.” There was one segment that was actually kinda interesting… where they discussed “Lettucebot.” Starts at around 13:50 in the downloadable MP3.
Lettucebot is, as the name suggests, a robot that can pick lettuce. It’s not only not a new concept (robots doing agricultural labor has been a Popular Science dream for decades),it’s not even a new machine, having been around for a few years. But I can recall arguing online, in the Great Usenet Era of fifteen, twenty years ago, that *eventually* robots will get good enough and cheap enough that they will be able to replace even illegal alien farm workers.
Robots have replaced just about every other kind of manual, repetitive labor… so why not. At least here they’d be replacing workers that society should be fine with making redundant. Along with robots for picking lettuce, there are prototypes for apples and cotton.
Unsurprisingly, the Public Radio piece focuses on the plight of the poor illegal immigrants, with a farm workers union rep saying that farmers should forget about all that robot stuff and should work instead on changing the laws to make it easier for “migrants” to come in and take the jobs of honest, hard-working red-wired American robots.
Granted, if I recall correctly farm laborers are a minority of the illegal alien population. Heck, most illegals are coming in from Asia, not Latin America, and are coming in legally and overstaying their visas, not sneaking across the border at night. Still, a robot that can replace any practical need for hundreds of thousands or millions of foreign lawbreakers? Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.
As the union rep says, bringing in robots does have a certain job-creation benefit: you need someone to operate and maintain the robots. At least initially, I’d expect these farmbots to be finicky, prone-to-malfunction expensebots that farmers will tend to hire; and there will be a reasonably well-paid technician riding herd on them. One guy could potentially replace hundreds of laborers. This means that that one guy could get paid really well. Which means it’ll be a job a whole bunch of Americans would be happy to do. Which would be one less reason to hire illegals.