Fruit Picking Robots Won’t Replace Immigrants

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Dan Steere, left, and Curt Salisbury, co-founders of Abundant Robotics Inc. | TJ Mullinax | Good Fruit Grower | goodfruit.com

Robots will completely transform the agricultural labor force in the U.S. It just won’t happen the way you expect.

Fruit-picking robots are a thing now. Or at least they will be very soon. Abundant Robotics Inc. of California and Israel-based FFRobotics, two competing companies, have each announced plans to have fruit picking automated harvesters ready for commercialization in the next 18-24 months.

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The robots use gentle gripper technology to twist or cut fruit off of the vine. The robots are said to have 90% of the accuracy of human labor, and capable of harvesting 24 hours a day.
But, with these relentless super robots tirelessly toiling in the fields, many fear that people will soon be losing their jobs to automation.

Immigrants do the Hard Labor

Interestingly, this fear is held mostly by people not employed in the menial jobs that these robots would replace. When it comes down to it, agricultural labor jobs were already being ignored by the youth of many developing countries. Immigrants performing this labor is a natural solution.

Replacing The Workforce

We can’t deny that our population is increasing and there aren’t enough resources for everyone to live like a king. Poverty will expand, people will need jobs. Robots may become autonomous but will always require some degree of human supervision and operation.

Depending on the task, automation actually presents an argument for job opportunities. In an automated world where people are increasingly working from home, could it be possible for farmers to operate these robots remotely as drones?

Automation doesn’t necessarily mean fewer jobs for everybody. Not to make a bleak comparison, but, we learned 200 years ago with the invention of Eli Whitney‘s cotton gin that there will always be a use for labor, even when humans have figured out ways to simplify the system.

They key to curbing immigration flows is to address the incentives that make people immigrate.

This includes the push factors in the country of origin and the pull factors to countries like the United States.

Yes, there are countless undocumented immigrants working. There are also countless restaurants, farms, and hotels that opt to hire undocumented immigrants.

Businesses can afford to engage in less scrupulous practices like paying employees less than legal minimum wage and therefore reduce overhead because they have legal and economic leverage. If an undocumented worker reports this behavior, the business will be investigated, and the undocumented worker not only risks losing their job but also risks deportation.

If Everyone’s a Robot, Who Will Pay Taxes?

There is also the case for taxing robots, an idea from Bill Gates that has recently been circulating around the Internet.

This will inevitably cause a stir in automated companies that have been saving on the cost of human labor with automation, and is already causing a bit of backlash from the industrial sector. If there are robot taxes, however, automation might not be preferential to businesses that take advantage of undocumented labor, or who benefit from certain tax breaks based on the workers they’ve hired.

Things Are Getting Dystopian

As the income gap grows, seemingly alongside the emergence of Industry 4.0, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Eventually, our society, which is at once incredibly inequal and incredibly technologically advanced will have to reconcile these key aspects of life.

Americans citizens are less interested in performing manual unskilled labor, but does our society really need this labor to function? This kind of labor is and has always been the back bone of America. The cultural adjustments that we would have to make to accept robot labor replacements seem unfathomable. This idea, of course, assumes that with automation and Industry 4.0 comes this sort of revolutionary and utopian liberation of the worker.

But reality, it seems, tends to lean towards dystopia.

Always.

And with that, here’s a clip of the film Sleep Dealer, which was released almost 10 years ago. It serves as a freakishly prophetic illustration of what our future may hold:

“All the work without the workers.” After a fortified wall makes physical immigration impossible, there are still menial jobs to be done and no cheap, readily available immigrants to fill them. Technically, robots do these jobs, but workers in Mexico operate them remotely.

Edgy Labs Readers: How close is this to being a reality?

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