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Robots May Replace Humans in Service Jobs (Video)

| by Michael Allen
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If you're tired of dealing with that cashier at McDonalds or the customer service rep at your bank, you may not have to wait too long to see them replaced by robots.

Rethink Robotics released Baxter, a humanoid robot, last fall and received an overwhelming response from the manufacturing industry, reports CNBC.com.

Baxter is cheaper than a years' salary for a human worker ($22,000), easy to train and won't join a union (video below).

Next month, Rethink Robotics will launch a software platform to help Baxter do more complex tasks. The company is also releasing a software development kit that will allow third parties to create applications for Baxter.

"These third parties are going to do all sorts of stuff we haven't envisioned," said Scott Eckert, CEO of Rethink Robotics, who envisions an app store for Baxter.

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"Could [Baxter] be a barista?" said Eckert. "It's not a target market, but it's something that's pretty repeatable. Put a cup in, push a button, espresso comes out, etc. There are simple repeatable service tasks that Baxter could do over time."

MIT already has a BakeBot that can read recipes, mix cookie dough and place it in the oven. The University of California at Berkeley has a robot that can do laundry. Robot servers are waiting tables at restaurants in Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand. A robot even served Passover matzah to President Obama during his trip to Israel.

Retail and service industries are the largest employers in the U.S., accounting for nearly 20 percent of total employment in 2011, according to the BLS.

However, Martin Ford, robotics expert and author of The Lights In the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, says if those service jobs were to be filled by robots, then millions of workers would be forced to file for unemployment.

Rodney Brooks, who invented Baxter, says that the robot is not meant to replace humans, but work along side them, reports NPR.org.

Brooks claims that Baxter is a robot that learns, versus robots designed to do specific tasks, like ones on an automotive production line.

Sources: CNBC.com and NPR.org