“What’s the matter Georgie? Something’s troubling you, I can tell.”
George and Colleen Vick were in their sitting room, each resting in their respective armchairs. The television, as usual, was tuned to the weather channel and muted, while the stereo played unnamed classical pieces at an almost inaudible volume. The kids had been gone for an hour, and George had still barely said a word. Colleen waited for an answer.
“Did something happen at work today?” she prompted.
George looked at her, and for a terrifying moment she thought he might cry. Then he spoke. “Nothing happened at work. There is no more work.” He paused, and forced himself to say the words. “I lost my job.”
“What? Why?” cried Colleen with the indignance of a mother whose child got a bad mark in school.
“I lost my job to a cliché,” said George. “I lost my job to a damn robot.”
“We’ll be okay, Georgie, you’ll find another job.”
And so began the conversation that George had been playing over and over in his head all evening. Yes, they had some money in the bank. No, it would not last long. Yes, they would give him a good reference. No, there weren’t any jobs in the paper, not that day at least. It wasn’t until much later, after some cathartic tears and a cup of tea, that Colleen thought to ask George what exactly had happened.
“What do you mean you lost your job to a robot?” she said.
“Well, it was actually a fleet of robots. Little flat orange pucks, like giant versions of those robot vacuum cleaners,” said George. “They run the warehouse floor now.”
Colleen looked confused. “How do they do that?”
“They are all run by a central computer, and they are designed to fit under the shelving units and drive them around,” he said, beginning to smile despite himself. “I hate to admit it, but it’s kind of fun to watch them scooting around the floor. They always look like they are going to crash into each other, but they never do.”
Colleen tried to picture it, but everything she imagined looked too much like science fiction to be real, as far as she was concerned.
“It was terrible, though,” George continued. “The warehouse workers all did overtime for a week transferring the inventory to these special new shelves, and none of them had any idea why. Now they’re all gone except for three of the foremen, who just stand at computer terminals all day ordering the robots around.” He paused and considered this. “Which, though again I hate to admit it, also sounds kind of fun.”
Colleen smiled at this comment. She was glad her husband wasn’t sinking into a depression, even if the whole thing still seemed rather fantastic in her opinion. Then something occurred to her. “But honey, you don’t work in the warehouse anymore!”
George nodded. “The new system has streamlined the whole company,” he said. “Orders are online-only now, and they only need a couple of people in my old position to check them over and forward them to the warehouse.”
Colleen thought about this for a moment. “Is there anything people are still better at?”