Replace Nigel With a Robot?
Larry Thornberry
by

A  “study” by a conservative think-tank in the UK concludes that 90 percent of British public workers could be replaced by robots, with no loss in efficiency. Perhaps an improvement, especially in data gathering. Even the work of some National Health Service doctors and nurses could be replaced by the successors to R2D2, the study claims. (“Take two aspirin — Beep! — and call me in the morning, Earth person.”)

An attractive but certainly flawed conclusion. (One suspects “researchers” on this one could barely speak for all the tongue in their cheeks.) Attractive because on both sides of the Atlantic we’ve all had the displeasure of dealing with robotic government bureaucrats. And certainly some jobs for document-stampers and bean-counters could be done better by machines, relieving the taxpayers (or, as the Brits say, ratepayers) of the burden of supporting overpaid and unsackable bureaucratic privates, PFCs, and corporals. But the concept is flawed and the conclusion inconvenienced in that we’ve all also had the displeasure of tying into some maddening phone-tree, at a business or government agency, where a disembodied voice like of a being from the Planet Mongo asks one to punch in responses to endless questions that have nothing to do with why we called in. At least Nigel can funnel you to right department that won’t be able to answer your question. You will still not be satisfied, but at least it will take less time to be disappointed.

The study is a one-day story, in that public employee unions will never hold still for having their dues payers replaced by robots (that is unless robots are required to pay union dues). Nigel’s job and generous pension remain safe. But it has its amusement value, and it doubtless annoys some of those same public employee union officials. So it’s not totally worthless.

I haven’t read the entire study. But it appears that two obvious follow-up questions were not asked, to wit: (1) If government employees were replaced by robots tomorrow, how long would it be before anyone noticed?, and (2) How many people believe current government workers are robots?

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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