Posted on June 28, 2015
I accidentally watched an episode of Undercover Boss last year. This was one of those drive-by viewings where you turn on the TV, the show is on and your Id can’t look away no matter how much your Ego and Super Ego try to reason with it.
In this episode, a guy who owned a novelty toy company went down to work in one of his own warehouses as a picker.
I worked in a warehouse for a while during high school and it was one of the better jobs I had during that time (the worst being all fast food and retail jobs. I truly hate working with the public) as it mostly consisted of driving a forklift, taping boxes, checking pallets, the kind of stuff I could do without engaging my brain which left more gray matter for writing stories at night.
What I saw on this episode of Undercover Boss horrified me. The pickers in this warehouse were fitted out with a literal robotic overlord that yelled at them all day, “Pick A1B22! Pick A2B33!” And, of course, the robots were programmed to drive the workers at particular pace which was just a little bit shy of so frantic that every shift would end with a workplace murder-suicide.
Forget creepy looking robots, this is the true Uncanny Valley, the time between now and the moment when the machines just flat out take our jobs. The time during which we work for them.
And what was truly creepy about this particular Voice Directed Warehouse (VDW) system was that it had a name. Jennifer. When the pickers get behind, they call out, “Slower, Jennifer!” Seeing this filled me with an overwhelming sadness. I was watching a human beg a machine to give him a fucking break.
But the truly sad thing is that in ten or fifteen years, even that job won’t be available for humans.