Jeff Flake versus the robot bartenders

This story actually came out a week ago, but what with all of the frantic excitement last week followed by the passing of Senator McCain it sort of fell through the cracks. Ironically, this news also involves John McCain and what turned out to be among his final official acts in Government. His fellow Senator from Arizona, the retiring Jeff Flake, introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act with a very singular purpose. It was intended to ban any government research money from going toward the development of robotic bartenders. And no… I’m not even kidding. (Free Beacon)

Republican senator Jeff Flake (Ariz.) is seeking to prevent the federal government from spending tax dollars on the development of robotic bartenders.

Flake proposed an amendment on Tuesday to the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act alongside his Arizona colleague, Sen. John McCain, prohibiting funds, marked for research and development, from being used to advance technology related to “beerbots” or “other robot bartenders.”

The amendment was offered in an effort to limit taxpayer dollars from further subsidizing technology that has proved viable in the private sector.

“With the national debt now exceeding $21.4 trillion, the Department of Defense should not be making taxpayers pick up the bar tab for beerbots,” Flake told the Washington Free Beacon.

This story obviously leads immediately to two burning questions:

1. Is this really going to be an effective deterrent to the rising menace of robot bartenders?
2. Wait… what? You mean we have robot bartenders?

The answer to the second question turns out to be yes. And we’ve had them for at least five years, though they’re in very limited use. If you go for a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas and visit the Bionic Bar you can see a couple of them in action. And for once, it’s really not all that creepy. Let’s go to the video.

So Jeff Flake doesn’t want any taxpayer money going into research for beerbots. I don’t think he’s as worried about the one in the video above. That’s been around for several years. But now there’s research going on which involves artificial intelligence and multiple mobile robots who are not only mixing drinks but handing them off to robot waiters who deliver them to tables. This is, it seems, a robotic bridge too far for Flake.

I’m not sure how I feel about this one My default position when it comes to any robots and artificial intelligence is to pack up the car and prepare to go save Sarah Connor if possible. But the bartending robots don’t seem nearly as threatening as anything from Boston Robotics or Kalashnikov, at least in terms of wiping out humanity. What’s worse, at least to me, is the fact that bartending is an old and treasured tradition. Mixing drinks, while an important skill to be sure, is only a small part of the job. Bartenders are also entertainers, therapists and crowd management specialists. That robot might well be able to mix up a rum and coke, but it’s never going to develop a rapport with you.

Then again, with artificial intelligence coming, maybe it will. Right before it switches out the Hendricks Gin with actual hemlock.