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Food-delivering robots won’t make the world a better place

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Robots are cool, but we should work to implement them in ways that improve our society. (Courtesy Marble)
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http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/broke-ass-city/

While Donny’s administration has been doing its best to drag the United States back in time, we live in a region obsessed with catapulting toward the future. This explains why there’s been a little drama this year about whether or not San Francisco should allow robots to deliver food.

You can’t make this stuff up: In Washington, D.C., we’ve got a vice president who’s afraid to be alone with a woman because, in his medieval belief system, women’s vaginas are full of witchcraft meant to tempt pious men. In San Francisco, we’re trying to figure out what to do with our robots.

But it’s true, we do have a robot problem in The City. A company called Marble has teamed up with Yelp so that when a customer orders through the Eat24 app, a robot can deliver the meal to wherever the lazy, non-mechanical flesh resides. Other companies, like Starship and Postmates, are also interested in using robots for delivery.

But in September, Supervisor Norman Yee proposed a ban on the robots, citing sidewalk safety issues. In October, the ban didn’t have enough votes to pass, so it was amended to regulate the robots instead of ban them. This version of the legislation has been sent to a board committee for further discussion.

There are a lot of things to be considered here, but first and foremost: Aren’t there better things these robots can do besides delivering Tacolicious? There’s human feces and needles littered across a third of San Francisco, and the big “problem” these startups are trying to solve is how to not pay humans to deliver your food while you watch the Kardashians in your underwear.

According to Alisha Green at the San Francisco Business Times, the proposal to ban the robot delivery boys was met with “warnings from Marble and local business groups that an outright ban on sidewalk robots in the city would force robot makers to take their development — and jobs — elsewhere.”

Now, hold on one hot second. You’re telling me that Marble, a company of 20 people, is threatening to take its jobs somewhere else if their robots don’t get to replace the jobs of hundreds of delivery people? This is some serious Silicon Valley entitled bullshit. Many of the people who currently deliver things for money do so for supplemental income, because they already aren’t making enough to survive. And 20 people, probably making six figures each, are throwing a pity party because their robots don’t get to replace working people? Y’all can pick the 101 or the 80 and see yourselves out of town.

Dear people in Silicon Valley, this is exactly why you get a bad name. Having robots performing tasks isn’t the issue; robots are hella cool and the technology is impressive. What isn’t cool or impressive is the way the technology is being used.

There has to be a better way to implement it, like cleaning up all the poop and needles around town. I understand that people are investing millions of dollars, with hopes that industries will pay you lots of money to buy your products and cut down on their costs. But creating technology that only serves people with means — in this case, lazy people who don’t want to wear pants — while decimating the incomes of people who are struggling to survive, isn’t making the world a better place.

And here’s the bigger problem: In the coming decades, more and more people are going to lose their jobs because of technology and automation. Those who are part of the “gig economy” — doing deliveries or driving for ride-hail companies — are going to be the first hit, because their jobs are already on the fringe. Often times, people who aren’t able to get other jobs can get gig-economy jobs. Yet despite all of this, we have a federal government that’s closer to burning witches at the stake than it is to considering something like universal basic income as a way to address the issue.

Banning technologies, or at least regulating them, may be a short-term stopgap, but it certainly isn’t the answer. Maybe Silicon Valley should focus all of its brainpower and billions of dollars of investment money on fixing real issues instead of just trying to figure out ways to do the things our moms won’t do for us anymore.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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