As robotics becomes increasingly sophisticated, we’re going to start seeing it pop up in places we haven’t expected. Still, you might not have thought that sushi-making was going to be the site of the next big robot revolution. Nonetheless, that’s what seems to have happened, with automation giant Kawasaki creating a robot sushi chef that can fulfil some of the roles of a traditional practitioner. That’s surprising, not just because it would be a bit of a shock bumping into a robot the next time you’re at your favourite sushi bar, but because sushi-making has conventionally been considered as much an art form as a simple exercise in preparing food.
Why a Sushi-Making Robot Might Not Really Be A Big Deal
It might sound like a pretty niche development (though, no doubt, very concerning for sushi chefs everywhere), but in fact it points to a much broader – and more worrying – trend towards automation. That’s because this is one of the first times we’ve seen robotics move beyond menial tasks to something more complex – creating what is, in a sense, a work of art.
We’re used to the negative consequences of increasing automation, but most of us tend to assume that the jobs new technology eliminates will be replaced by that same technology – the invention of the computer led to fewer clerks doing menial jobs, but they were replaced with programmers and software developers.
In general, we expect the basic tasks to be eaten up by machines, while the harder, more creative tasks are done by humans. The sushi chef robot shows that machines are starting to eat away at that ‘safe haven’ – the jobs we should be escaping to as robots eliminate the more menial work. After all, making sushi is as much an art as a science – it takes years to develop the ‘touch’, the bodily intuition required to make just the right cut in just the right place, all at the sushi bar’s brisk pace. It’s not the sort of thing, you’d have thought, that a mere machine could learn to do. But it seems, now, that it is.
We’re used to the idea that tellers and bookkeepers are at risk of losing their jobs, what about surgeons, writers and teachers? A surgeon needs a delicate touch you might not expect from a robot – but, then, so does making sushi, with some sushi chefs even comparing their work to the art of surgery. Writing requires a creative sensibility – but again, so does sushi, as any practitioner will tell you. You need good interpersonal and communication skills to be a teacher – but as this blog from billionaire AI and robotics investor Tej Kohli explains, the rise of chatbots shows that robots can take over human tasks even on an emotional level.
Sushi-making is serving as the canary down the coalmine for the robotics revolution. If robots and AI were poised to start replacing even roles we traditionally assumed only a human could do, it would be one of the first things we’d expect to see go as part of that coming wave. The fact that we are now seeing sushi-making at risk ought to worry all of us – it may spell the beginning of the end for working life as we know it.