The speedy rise and fall of robot babysitters

Robot babysitting was the first job that Jordan Zagerman, 21, ever held. In 2017, while completing an associate’s degree at San Francisco State University, he followed a delivery robot around San Francisco’s Parkmerced neighborhood, supplying condoms, chips, and soda on demand on behalf of a company called Dispatch. He also managed Dispatch’s Snapchat account and designed branded sweatshirts. Then, after four weeks, came the “it’s not you, it’s me” email. “Over the weeks, people were progressively less surprised with the robot,” he said. “Every robot handler was let go.” The experience convinced Zagerman that he needed to better prepare himself for the future. That fall, he moved to Philadelphia to start a bachelors degree in user-experience design at Drexel University; when he graduates, he hopes to return to Silicon Valley, but this time for a more white-collar, technical position. “I left,” he told me, “to make sure I wouldn’t get phased out with autonomy.”

McKinsey estimates 10 million to 800 million jobs globally could be lost to automation by 2030. In the long term, it’s inevitable that robot-babysitting gigs will go the way of elevator operators and lamplighters. But they’ll also birth new robot-related roles. “A huge number of jobs will be created as autonomous vehicles are loosed into the environment,” Ramsey said. In 2016, Bosch started training students from Schoolcraft College, a community college in Michigan, in autonomous-vehicle repair; Toyota has trained students in maintenance as well. “We might even see a return to low-level jobs where people come and fuel the car for you,” Ramsey said. “Until we can wirelessly charge, someone needs to refuel them.” The hardest-to-automate industries, as it happens, are the ones that require looking after humans: childcare, education, health-care aides. Robot babysitters might feel like they have scored the job of the future. But in fact, real babysitters might be better positioned.