As reported in the Daily Mirror and elsewhere, and also noted on our own Facebook page, robot bricklayers have now been developed that are claimed to work harder and faster than any human could. Developed in the USA and already in use on a few building sites there, there is a concern that these machines could put thousands of brickies out of work. The economics seem unassailable: a human bricklayer averages 500 bricks a day, whereas the machines can do 3,000. What’s not to like (unless you are brickie of course)?
Well, before all construction company bosses get too excited by the human productivity gains seemingly on offer, it’s worthwhile pointing out that robots are not always as dependable as they seem.
In 2013, a household robot in Austria “committed suicide” after it reportedly got fed up by being issued with one too many mundane cleaning tasks. The robot had been switched off and left on the sideboard. Somehow or other it managed to switch itself back on and crawl back along the work surface to the cooker where it pushed a pot out of the way and then self-immolated.
More recently, we tweeted the story of the robot security guard in the USA which was either just careless and didn’t notice the steps and water or, according to other accounts “it got bored” and deliberately sought a watery grave.
While we’re not sanguine about bricklaying or any other building robots – they are coming to a construction site near you at some future date - clearly there is some more work to be done before they are perfected. The possibility of a bricklaying robot running amok, sorcerer’s apprentice style, and constructing an extension and a garage that weren’t in the original plans may seem remote but as the two stories above show they are not entirely beyond the realms of possibility.
Moreover, Marvin, the paranoid android from “the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” may be not just a figment of the imagination. Imagine a robot builder of the future. He (or indeed she or it) sees the (few remaining) human builders head off to their van for a piece. He/she/it, left outside in the rain, feels anger and a sense of injustice. The robot attacks the van and all the humans are badly injured. In court, the robot pleads guilty but insane – as do the people who designed and built him. Implausible, but then so is a bored household robot committing suicide on the top of a cooker. The world is changing, but if I were a brickie I wouldn’t be too worried yet.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment