In the classic 'Cantina' scene from the first Star Wars film, the barkeep barks a testy 'We don't serve their kind in here' to our hero Luke Skywalker, instructing him that he has to leave his trusty droids R2D2 and C3PO outside, as they were not welcome in the bar. Luke complies, as the unwelcome presence of the droids would have certainly added to the trouble he was about to find in the Cantina, which culminated in the legendary and controversial Han Solo - Greedo altercation.
But this post is not about Star Wars or Droids, it is to highlight yet another interesting development in what some see as an inexorable march towards total robot domination of work and workplaces. Since the economic and manufacturing capability value play for the basic application of robot technologies for work can no longer be argued, the next set of questions are more about the future. What will the next stage of robot-work and as we will see in the example below, robot-workplaces look like? That's correct, not just robots at work, or robots replacing some of the work that people used to do, but could we see one day entire workplaces, (factories, warehouses, maybe farms), where humans only enter and engage to swap out broken or failed components, or possibly as the clean-up crew to salvage parts once a particular solution or capability is no longer needed.
Seem crazy? Well, some technical leaders at none other than social-networking leader Facebook are already thinking about this, envisioning the Data Center of the future, (you know where all the hardware sits that makes up 'The Cloud'), might be one where we hardly ever see an actual person. From a recent piece on ZDNet:
"I've always envisioned what could we do with a datacentre if humans never needed to go into the datacentre," (Facebook VP of Hardware Design) Frank Frankovsky says. "What would a datacentre look like if it wasn't classified as a working space? What if it looked more like a Costco warehouse?"
(Facebook) hopes its ability to manage its infrastructure mostly via software could cut the amount of time people spend on the IT floor of the datacentre — eventually, it might be possible to have no one there at all, Frankovsky says. This holds a number of intriguing possibilities for datacentres.
If people did not need to go into a datacentre, then you could deploy devices floor to ceiling and run them at a much higher heat, allowing the processors inside them to perform more efficiently, Frankovsky says.
Looking further ahead, the datacentre could be treated as a "degrade and replace" model, Frankovsky says. "Essentially, you fill up a datacentre, put it into production and weld the door shut." If a company did this, it would only need to send someone into the facility every six months to perform processor upgrade and swap out failed storage, he says.
Realistically, or perhaps unrealistically depending on your general level of pessimism/optimism, the kinds of robotic, computer, and server technology changes needed to support this kind of 'no humans inside' data center is perhaps a decade away, maybe less. But there seems to be little doubt that increased robot and automated technology and less human interaction with the technology in these workplaces is likely. If you have a 10-year old kid that you have any influence over, I recommend having him/her start preparing for a a future where 'gets along well with robots' is going to be a key professional competency.
Let's just hope when the skeleton crew of people show up at the door of the data center to perform their twice-a-year inspections and maintenance that the robot in charge will be a little more friendly to the people than the Cantina bartender was to R2 and C3PO.