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Robotics Technology

Robots To Replace Migrant Fruit Pickers 409

Vicissidude sends us to Wired for a look at a fruit-harvesting robot being developed in California. Its development has been funded entirely by agricultural associations, concerned by the uncertainty surrounding migrant immigrant labor. Quoting: "As if the debate over immigration and guest worker programs wasn't complicated enough, now a couple of robots are rolling into the middle of it. Vision Robotics, a San Diego company, is working on a pair of robots that would trundle through orchards plucking oranges, apples or other fruit from the trees. In a few years, troops of these machines could perform the tedious and labor-intensive task of fruit picking that currently employs thousands of migrant workers each season."
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Robots To Replace Migrant Fruit Pickers

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  • Really? (Score:5, Funny)

    by lionheart1327 ( 841404 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:35AM (#19617461)
    Really? How much exactly do these robots cost?
    Is it more than about $3 an hour, including maintenance?

    And do they reproduce themselves?

    Cuz, you've got some strong competition there.
    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:38AM (#19617477)
      Look, these robots are doing the jobs illegal immigrants won't do.

      This is 2007. Your robophobia will not be tolerated.
      • This one is worth a few "Funny" points, if not something else for the thought behind the sarcasm.
        • Re:MOD PARENT UP (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ArcherB ( 796902 ) * on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:58AM (#19617571) Journal
          This one is worth a few "Funny" points, if not something else for the thought behind the sarcasm.

          I doubt it. I read it as a stereotype parody of anyone who is against illegal immigration. See, if you are not for completely open borders, you are automatically a racist, xenophobe, bigot, red-neck...whatever. He refuses to consider that maybe illegals have no rights, no protection under the law (as far as they know), and they are taken advantage of and abused on a regular basis because they are illegal and are afraid to seek their rights. It makes his side a clear winner when he doesn't mention that people who want a secure border aren't against immigration. We just want a name and simple background check. We are not bigots. Hell, for that matter, I feel the immigration quota should be raised to the number of estimated illegals in the country. What is it, 12,000,000. The number of legal immigrants is capped at 250,000. That's a joke! NO wonder there are so many illegals!

          Anyway, this machinery is the modern day equivalent of the cotton gin. Only, instead of helping to end the oppression of blacks, it will end the oppression of Hispanics.
          • by ArcherB ( 796902 ) *
            Mr, E-Poet:

            Sorry, I thought you were responding to different post. Should have clicked the "parent" link to make sure.

            You were right, that was kinda funny!
          • Re:MOD PARENT UP (Score:4, Informative)

            by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @02:23AM (#19617687) Homepage
            Actually genius the cotton gin prolonged the oppression of blacks.

            You see picking cotton just wasn't as profitable as growing other things, until the cotton gin made it more profitable.

            Sure it saved some work, but it created much more.
          • Re:MOD PARENT UP (Score:4, Informative)

            by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @07:51AM (#19618797) Homepage
            I agree with you 100%. The US is a nation of immigrants, and it's insanely hypocritical to keep the immigration caps as low as they are, especially with the costs of domestic labor skyrocketing through the roof.

            People of any nationality should be given a legal and reasonable path of immigration to the US, as long as they are willing to work, and attempt to integrate into the society. Considering the poor (by American standards) conditions that most illegals put up with to live and work in the US, it's pretty clear that there are a TON of people who WANT to be part of our society. Denying them that right is nothing short of inhumane. Considering that most illegals are already able to find employment that pays enough for them to subsist, it's not exactly like the US is going to turn into a refugee camp, and, if anything, will help the US economy by preventing the outsourcing of manufacturing and agriculture to other countries. It's also not exactly like the US is overcrowded -- we have more good land down south, and out west than we know what to do with.

            The problem is, that, unlike yourself, many many Americans ARE bigots towards Latin Americans (and overwhelmingly so). The current immigration restrictions are more likely than not a result of this sort of person.

            My local newspaper's website offers a comments section, much like most blogs offer. Whenever a story about immigration is posted, it is immediately flooded with some of the most potent and passionate bigotry I've ever seen (outside of documentaries on the civil rights movement). The newspaper now disables comments for these stories. It dealt a serious blow to my faith in humanity.

            The locale of this newspaper? New Jersey. I would say that it's not unreasonable to peg over 50% of Jersey's population as being direct decendants of Ellis Island immigrants from the 19th and 20th centuries.
      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Funny)

        by melikamp ( 631205 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @05:48AM (#19618435) Homepage Journal
        It's too bad that these fruit-picking robots will soon be displaced by cheap, illegally smuggled Mexican knock-offs.
    • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Fry-kun ( 619632 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:39AM (#19617487)
      I think you misunderstand: the point is that the $3/hr labor might become unavailable, sometime soon. That's why they wanted to create a backup plan.
      If the $3/hr is available, then of course machinery can't compete with that (at least not until it's rolled out on a large scale and parts for maintenance become dirt-cheap)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by arivanov ( 12034 )
        Not so sure.

        I have used a similar approach to picking for a completely different crop 20+ years ago. We picked carrots that way. One-two people go and pull and pile in the middle of the row, doing nothing else. Two more people sort leaving them on the ground and two-three pack the sorted crop. The efficiency was around 6 times higher than the standard picking by hand where a single person picks them, sorts them and carries the lot the collection point for packing. In fact the efficiency was so high that we
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:44AM (#19617503)
      Low cost, low value added labor is a loser. So is importing millions of people to form a permanent slave class.

      This argument was what Southern Slave owners used with Cotton.

      Funny, how that chore of cotton picking got automated.

      Machines don't get tired. They don't die. They don't need medical care or costly medical plans. They can be made over and over again, and always get cheaper when you make enough of them. The whole advance of human existence has been to make more and better machines, that do more to leverage people's labor.

      Hello that is WHY you are reading Slashdot.

      Machines replaced slave and later tenant farmer/serf labor in the South. Machines replaced lots of deadly hand labor in coal mines (not entirely but a lot). Machines replaced a line full of low skilled labor on the auto assembly lines with a few high skilled positions.

      But hey, for some people having a subservient near-slave class is a plus. Not the kind of society I'd want to live in, but some folks only feel better when they have helots to lord it over I guess.
      • Cause, we've yet to make a machine that doesn't need maintenance.
        • by Fry-kun ( 619632 )
          That's okay, for the robot model A we'll build a robot model B that maintains model A.
          When B goes out of order, model C will take care of that.
          When C breaks down, model D will fix model C. ... and so on and so forth. Until model Z, of course.
          We'll then just program model A to fix model Z.

          Don't worry, we software engineers have everything figured out already :)
        • by arth1 ( 260657 )
          One word: Voyager
      • They can be made over and over again

        So can people, and I'd be willing to help out our American allies there. Ha, ha. But ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present Gross National Product within say, twenty years.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by pipingguy ( 566974 ) *
        Machines don't get tired. They don't die. They don't need medical care or costly medical plans.

        True. But I've seen very excellent software solutions just die because the people who were supposed to operate them fail. Why? Because people have an inherent dislike/aversion to functioning like machines, and a lot of software forces them to do so.

        My examples are from the engineering world, so we're not talking about data entry-level work.

        It also doesn't help that software changes ("improves") so frequentl
        • Nice post. I'm sure that, somewhere, there's a reference to the actual topic, i.e. agricultural labor. I'm just damned if I can find it.
      • Machines replaced slave and later tenant farmer/serf labor in the South. Machines replaced lots of deadly hand labor in coal mines (not entirely but a lot). Machines replaced a line full of low skilled labor on the auto assembly lines with a few high skilled positions.

        And what happens to all this low skill labour when they've lost their jobs? They're not clever or educated enough for a skilled profession, and with robots taking up all their jobs, we're going to end up with mass unemployment.

    • Well, not having RTFA, I'd assume that they can probably work 24/7. Do the current pickers do that?

      And even if they cost more, it might be good insurance against losing your entire crop due to an ill-timed INS raid. I really wonder if the robots can do as good of a job, but if they do something close it could be an interesting part of the debate.
    • Really? How much exactly do these robots cost?
      Is it more than about $3 an hour, including maintenance?

      Well, no Americans will work doing Robot maintenance for $3.00 and hour. On the other hand, if you are flexible about who you hire, I'm sure you could find somebody willing to do it at that price...
    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ex-MislTech ( 557759 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @08:52AM (#19619053)
      They only cost $3 an hour if you DON'T consider they make up the majority of
      the prison population in southern California, and that their free medical
      care isn't paid for by taxpayers.

      When they reproduce for free, and you wonder why your taxes went up 100%
      on you house, it is because your paying to educate their kids.

      If they want to pay their fair share, and become law abiding citizens then so be it.

      It will make jobs damn scarce for awhile as anyone all over earth can come here,
      but it beats what we have now.

  • Long overdue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:37AM (#19617471) Homepage Journal

    I've been wondering why this hasn't happened yet for years. The answer, of course, is that the ag industry could rely on incredibly cheap labor, so it wasn't worth developing a technological replacement. But if anything is proof that the debate about illegal immigration has turned a corner, this is it.

    Once you've seen the back-breaking labor involved in the California agriculture industry, it's impossible not to applaud the development of technology that will make it obsolete. Nobody says after years of work in the strawberry fields, "Gee, I'm sure glad I got the opportunity to explore my full human potential in that career!"

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I remember when this subject first came up back in the 80's in California. There was a loud protest by the U.C. students against this type of research. So much so, that it was definitely a politically unacceptable subject, and the research seemed to be moved to the back burner.

      You see, students were concerned about the impact on the Farm Workers back then, and didn't want to jeoparize their jobs. It might be a little hard to fathom now, but it was a different time back then. The grape boycott by the Farm Wo
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Nobody says after years of work in the strawberry fields, "Gee, I'm sure glad I got the opportunity to explore my full human potential in that career!"

      Yeah, all they moan about is how they could feed their family. It sounds like those complaining people who were screwing in the backlights in Fords. We realy made them happy by replacing them by robots.
      • by Infonaut ( 96956 )

        Yeah, all they moan about is how they could feed their family

        Bullshit. They also moan about how their bodies are used up in half the time yours and mine are. They complain about terrible working conditions, terrible health, and short lifespan. Just because some people survive off a horrible job doesn't mean it should continue to exist.

    • Unions were developed when they found that machines could replace 90% of workers in factories.

      The ancient debate over whether the un-educated masses need busy-work continues.

      Each time technology replaces a workforce there is a massive recession, prices need to adjust for the lower wages being paid (overall)...

      I'm a fan of it but it's tough for a while.
      • No, unions were developed when owners were abusing their workers. Automation, leading to loss of jobs only really became an issue in the last 30 years. And unions have been around MUCH longer than that.
        • Automation, leading to loss of jobs only really became an issue in the last 30 years.
          Are you posting thrrough a time portal from the 1800s [], or just talking out of your ass?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      ""Gee, I'm sure glad I got the opportunity to explore my full human potential in that career!""

      The same could be said about any "Career" what makes you think picking strawberries is any different from any other career that one can enjoy? If picking strawberries paid 60K a year and software programming paid $3 an hour you can bet your boot the only reason people "feel satisfied" with their careers half the time is the money it brings in and the working conditions and renumerations associated with the task.
  • by slurry47 ( 27097 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:40AM (#19617491)
    We already have fruit f*cker robots, why not fruit pluckers too. ruit+fucker []
  • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:44AM (#19617499) Homepage Journal
    The ag lobby has been claiming that we need "guest workers" (or illegals, or others) to pick these crops.

    This is not unlike the H1B scandal. If you pay enough, you'll find people to do almost any job. The "need" isn't for workers per se, but people who will work a brief job for roughly minimum wage and then move on as a rootless nomad.

    We should view this as cruel. We shouldn't maintain an underclass which picks fruit or maintains gardens. Machines can do this work without becoming tired, bored, getting disabling injuries, suffering reactions to ag chemicals, or any of the other hazards of human labor in orchards and fields. Machines can be built as needed and scrapped when they become unusable or obsolete.

    If a machine is stored in a leaky barn, it's the farmer's problem. It's not cruel to ask a machine to work in high temperatures or without toilet breaks. A machine doesn't need compensation if drought or frost or fungus ruins the crop and there's nothing for it to do one year.

    The taxpayer ought to have a say too. A machine isn't going to bring in a family which immediately qualifies for food stamps and Medicaid. A machine isn't going to overwhelm schools with ESL students. A machine isn't going to add to traffic congestion or law-enforcement expenses.

    People who build and maintain machines have pretty good lives. People who do the sort of jobs replaced by machines often don't. Designing and debugging and improving machines means paychecks for geeks like us.

    Instead of asking anyone to do jobs we won't do ourselves, or pay enough to attract folks like us, let's make machines to do them. Anything less is hypocritical.
    • by NDPTAL85 ( 260093 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:48AM (#19617521)
      1. Do you think the migrant workers are going to be hapy to be out of jobs?

      2. What will you say when automation renders YOUR occupation redundant?
      • 1. I think they'll be happy to be settled somewhere. I and many others would prefer that the illegal immigrants do this in their home countries.

        2. When automation can create and execute new concepts, humanity itself will have created its successor. Think of it as evolution in action.
        • Re:You sure? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Duhavid ( 677874 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @02:25AM (#19617701)
          I dont think they come here to pick fruit per se,
          they come here because economic conditions are better,
          and there are jobs that pay more. So, if the
          ag jobs go away, I would not expect immigration
          to stop or reverse. It might find a new equilibrium,
          and slow a bit.

          "Think of it as evolution in action". A reader of
          "Oath of Fealty", perhaps?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        1.) Do you think former IT workers who lost their jobs to India or had their wages slash are going to be happy out of jobs?

        2.) Automation overseas is making our jobs obsolete.

        Yet no one cares so why should I care about them?

        Not to sound cruel but I am competing with these people now for minimum wage jobs and these farm workers pay them for less for minium wage and I can not even work the fields myself as an American.

        Basically they can complain all they want but no one will care and I will be angry if they d
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by houghi ( 78078 )
          It is YOUR fault you do not want to work for the same wage as illegal immigrants do. Do not blame somebody else for taking your job. Blame yourself.
          • Okay, so it's the immigrants' fault that they're not good enough to not get replaced by robots, then, right?
          • It is YOUR fault you do not want to work for the same wage as illegal immigrants do.
            The same people who are supporting illegal immigration are the same ones who make it illegal for US citizens to actually work for the same wages as the illegals.
      • I'll join the campaign for robots to do as much work as possible while the government gives me a stipend to become an artist.
      • What will you say when automation renders YOUR occupation redundant?
        As a software engineer, I live for the day when a robot renders my occupation redundant. Humanity will have been surpassed. Our petty desires and complaints will be as nothing compared to the almighty power of those exponentially increasing intellects. All hail the robotic software engineers! We'll still be fucking in our cottages while they're out colonizing remote galaxies.
        • That's alright for you then, isn't it. Who cares if millions lose their jobs as long as the intellectual elite keep theirs?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Smight ( 1099639 )
      I find it interesting that the same people who wail against sweatshops in Asia and constantly want to raise the minimum wage are the same people that want to allow a slave class with no benefits forced to work long hours for less than minimum wage.
    • From bad to worse. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xC0000005 ( 715810 )
      The only reason why people do jobs like this is that it is better than the alternative. If we eliminate the class of jobs (which I agree we should do) then the net effect to migrants is bad. The net effect to those that they are supporting is disasterous to the population being supported by said industry. Even if the industry is horrible the alternative may be worse. So if we do this automation, do we simply eliminate the class and let the chaos fall where it may? Note that a similar thing happened in N
      • I agree! Quick! Burn the looms! []
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by xC0000005 ( 715810 )
          Can't tell if this is a troll post or not. I'll bite. I'm not sure where my post said I agree with the luddite type position. In fact, I stated that I believe we should automate these jobs (and other menial type jobs). We should plan for the impact of doing so. If that impact is to our citizens, then let's have a plan for how to get them ready to contribute in some way that doesn't involve illegal activities. If it doesn't involve our citizens it isn't directly our problem, but might be in our best in
      • by javaman235 ( 461502 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @02:51AM (#19617847) Homepage
        To be frank, though I agree I think you're also missing the worst part of this whole idea; the fact that we are headed for an energy crunch. The absolute last thing we need to be doing now is having our food supply more reliant than it already is on cheap energy.
    • And we should be at least as honest as Orwell was in his unforgettable essay, Down the Mine []. He took up this problem seventy years ago. After painting the unhuman conditions for British miners in the 30s, he makes this brutal admission in closing:

      In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an 'intellectual' and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because min

  • Que!?!?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Orange Mage ( 1057436 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @01:47AM (#19617515) Homepage
    Tomaron nuestros trabajos!
  • Wrong Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @02:00AM (#19617575) Homepage
    It amazes me that Horticulturists can come up with thousands of varieties of flowers, fruits, & vegetables, Engineers can come up with robots that circle a tree numerous times to clean it of any fruit, but the two can't work together to make a tree that's easier to harvest from.

    Maybe they will now.
    • Learn about pecan harvesting. When it's a good investment, the effort will be made.

    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @03:14AM (#19617925) Homepage

      "Tree shakers" [] have been used since the 1960s. A big net in two section is clamped around the tree, a big arm reaches out and grabs the tree trunk, and a vibrator shakes the tree while the fruit falls off. Some early versions damaged trees, but that was fixed. (Linear shaking good, orbital shaking bad.)

      Tomato harvesting was partly mechanized back in the 1960s. A tougher tomato plus appropriate machinery did the job. This was controversial at the time. Today, it's established technology. Check out the Pik-Rite 190 Tomato Harvester. [] 30 tons of tomatoes an hour. And that's the small model. This still doesn't work all that well for the softer varieties of tomatoes intended for sale whole, but Roma and cherry tomatoes are routinely picked by machine now.

      Picking machines are getting smarter. The newer ones have cameras, computers, and air jets [] to sort produce by size and color.

  • Luddism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Prysorra ( 1040518 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @02:02AM (#19617581)
    Expect massive Luddite revolts. I'm serious. You have no idea how many MILLIONS of Mexican migrant workers there are.

    This wont be pretty. Perhaps we should ask England is advice concerning textile machines?
    • Expect massive Luddite revolts. I'm serious. You have no idea how many MILLIONS of Mexican migrant workers there are.

      This wont be pretty. Perhaps we should ask England is advice concerning textile machines?

      Yeah that strategy worked famously for the Luddites? They sure stopped the industrial revolutions, shows them smarmy technoolooogits.
    • Expect massive Luddite revolts. I'm serious.
      Release the killbots!
  • About time... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by c.r.o.c.o ( 123083 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @02:09AM (#19617615)
    Developing technology is extremely expensive. And while there is no pressure to change, usually driven by shortages in supply (whether labour or raw materials), the status quo is maintained.

    It took more than one gas crisis for the American car manufacturers to design fuel efficient engines. Because while gas was cheap, there were no incentives to invest in technology. And while labour was (and still is) cheap, robotics cannot compete. I am sure that the technology for those robots has been available for at least a decade, but it wasn't cost effective in comparison to migrant workers.

    But this is the way our society SHOULD have developed. So many manufacturing processes could be automated, if not for the initial investment.
  • a fruit-harvesting robot being developed in California.
    Government funding for these kinds of projects always tends to be easier to come by in California. Of course, it may have something to do with agreeing to add code to help the governor track down Sarah Conner.
  • by NeMon'ess ( 160583 ) * <<flinxmid> <at> <>> on Saturday June 23, 2007 @02:35AM (#19617753) Homepage Journal
    In theory we could have a civilization where people only work if they want to. Isaac Asimov and Roger MacBride Allen explored one possible society in the Caliban [] trilogy.

    We could have robots making our fast food, doing the gardening, mining metal, making robots, maintaining robots.
  • We'll just have to hire a bunch of migrant robot repairmen!
  • I would give these migrant workers something motivational to say, but then I remembered this []

    (Yes, I'm a bastard)

  • Oh, great so what are we going to do when all of the illegal Transformers from Cybertron come over the boarder looking for farm work? This is just swapping one illegal for another.
  • What to do... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Statecraftsman ( 718862 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @03:13AM (#19617917) Homepage
    Not to take this story for more than what it is but this gives me an opportunity to share a vision of the future that has made me think quite hard. What if robots could do every menial and every physical job that needed doing? Imagine robots as dexterous and with visual recognition as good as your average skilled craftsman.

    Would each person own a robot and collect a check from home or would the more likely scenario be that a few large companies would run huge armies of these robots? How might all those people who never heard of 'knowledge work' make a living? I'm thinking that the current scheme for distribution of wealth based on labor might not work in that scenario. Finally, I wonder what system, short of some socialist or communist nightmare, would.

    I'm interested to hear what people think. Discussion or not, we'll only find out when it happens so bring those cotton-pickin' robots on!
    • Re:What to do... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by forkazoo ( 138186 ) <> on Saturday June 23, 2007 @04:32AM (#19618181) Homepage

      Would each person own a robot and collect a check from home or would the more likely scenario be that a few large companies would run huge armies of these robots? How might all those people who never heard of 'knowledge work' make a living? I'm thinking that the current scheme for distribution of wealth based on labor might not work in that scenario. Finally, I wonder what system, short of some socialist or communist nightmare, would.

      Well, to address the issue of would everybody let their robot earn them a paycheck... If robots are cheap enough to be owned by an individual, why the heck would any sane corporation hire individual robots from many small contractors instead of either leasing from another large company or buying their own? I've heard other people ponder the notion of each individual owning a robot and letting it do their work, but this seems like a really silly idea, and nobody has ever explained to me how it could actually work in practice...

      As for how somebody who isn't in knowledge work makes a living... Land speculation. Ultimately, location is the only scarce tangible. There is a lot of space, but people want to be in particular places, so a particular location will always have some intrinsic value, even after robotic exploitation of asteroids and the like makes the mineral value of land for raw resources negligible.
    • Re:What to do... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @05:05AM (#19618311)
      I've considered the same thing and have come to the belief there are two distinct scenarios that we may encounter.

      Either scenario has the same basis, as robots render physical human labor obsolete we will end up with a three class society. An upper class who owns the businesses (and the robots), a middle class consisting of the intellectual lower level professions, ie programmers, scientists, engineers, essentially the people who build and service the robots, and finally a lower class of people who's jobs were taken by robots (manual laborers or even intellectual laborers who's field is better done by machine). The first two classes are probably mostly the same as they are now, where the systems differ is the question of what to do with the lower class of people.

      If we simply extend our current societal and economic principals we'll decide they need busywork, most likely this will be involved in somehow entertaining the other two classes. A good portion will probably perform some kind of creative art, ie actors or musicians, and most of their work will consist of live shows (best way to use up manpower and show supremacy of the other two classes). However the vast majority won't be sufficiently creative enough, thus they'll be in the service industry, waiters, butlers, chauffeurs (if we still let humans drive). Note that in both cases the lower class isn't servicing only the upper class but probably the middle class as well, for instance the equivalent of a code monkey would get a couple butlers since there's such an excess of labor available. Interestingly since the benefit of work is so much less society may respond by demanding people work more since large numbers of unemployed or under stimulated people would have the potential to be extremely disruptive to the society. This does have precedent, apparently in the middle ages the idea was if you could get out of working you should, people with inherited money who chose not to work weren't looked down upon like they are today (at least by some parts of society). The idea of everyone having to work and pull their fair share was in part a reaction to the industrial revolution and the creation of the welfare state so that people wouldn't choose to remain unemployed.

      This isn't a horrible scenario, it just isn't a very significant improvement over our current society. The happier alternative is that instead of keeping the lower class busy with work we keep them busy with fun. People who don't work just spend their days visiting with each other, going to various clubs, basically keeping themselves entertained with structured activities. This will probably be accomplished through some kind of welfare, the upper and middle class will still get extra money to be rewarded for their work (though most of the middle class will probably be the Open Source developer type who does it partially for fun) but living a life without employment will be a viable and somewhat respectable possibility. The fundamental difference between this system and the previous is in the first system the lower class entertained just the upper and middle classes, here they entertain themselves as well.

      This second scenario may seem like a fantasy but I do believe it is a possibility. Just think of the life of an unemployed person today as opposed to a couple hundred years ago?

      What will determine which path is basically how we react when we start to get large numbers of people who are able, competent, looking for any kind of work, and unable to find it. If we keep creating jobs to keep them employed and occupied than we may end up with the first scenario, if however we try to give them a viable alternative (maybe even give them fun jobs) we may get the second scenario.
  • DEAD on the MONEY (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @03:16AM (#19617941) Journal
    The problem is that America is letting illegals come here to pick. Instead, had reagan not done his infamous forgivness, then we would have been forced to deal with this. All in all, we would already be highly mechaniczed. What is needed is to automate the low end jobs of agriculture, construction, manufactuering and low-end service jobs. These robots will not only be useful here, but also in any attempt to move off planet. Once we go to either the moon or mars we will need HEAVY automation to survive. And for America, and the west such as Japan and Europe, we need it due to our greying population. That is going to haunt us soon.
  • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @03:17AM (#19617945)
    There will be the typical outcry that it's being proposed to either stop Mexicans from migrating, deprive Latinos work and money (vast chunks of central America and Mexico are now completely dependent on migrant labor money that is sent home) And there will of course be comments from what is typical of ignorant people that call themselves liberal (and aren't).

    The fact is immigration reform that removes illegal migrants and eliminates even agricultural migrant's will be good for America in every way. The US economy has moved to a very strong dependence on what can only be called slave labor. Illegal migrants are frequently put in job's that pay less than US minimum wage standards and don't meet US minimum safety standards. There can be no argument that the continual immigration of people to the US helps the American economy, even illegal migration helps, the question is does it help more than controlled immigration does. But the fact is, how illegal workers are treated in this country is akin to the sharecrop system of virtual slavery that developed in the south after the civil war. It's also a fact that eliminating the cheap slave labor will force technological solutions that in the end will generate a significant number of high paying tech jobs.

    As citizens we have to decide if we believe in the values we enshrine. If the wholesale exploitation of people to keep fruit and veggy prices low fits with our values. Sure, the migrants will tell you that they love living in America and that they do the hard work so their children have a chance that they wouldn't have in their home countries. Again, we have to ask ourselves, wouldn't it be better to allow REAL immigration instead of speaking out about illegal migration while we turn a blind eye to the illegal migration (US policy for the last 20 years).

    How many people do you know that have turned in the local small businesses that are employing illegal migrants and in the process pricing out everyone else that is playing by the rules ?(Construction is by far the worst for this)? Illegal migration artificially deflates labor prices, it's the reason the republican's have used to keep the minimum wage from changing and it's also the reason that some jobs have such low labor rates that no one but illegal migrants can afford the job, thereby providing an excuse to right wing policy makers that the migrants are only taking jobs that American's won't. Without illegal migrants in the equation labor rates would be forced by supply and demand to provide a real living wage.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by OverlordQ ( 264228 )
      I'm glad somebody mentioned Republicans . . .

      Because I can guarantee you, every single Republican who voted for that Amnesty bill committed Political Suicide. Their approval ratings (from Republican voters) have plummeted faster then a greased up slip-n-slide.

      Here's some nice tidbits:

      Just 14% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress. This 14% Congressional confidence rating is the all-time low for this measure, which Gallup initiated in 1973. The previous low point for Congr

  • Jumping the gun (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cowtamer ( 311087 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @03:18AM (#19617949) Journal
    Picking a fruit without damaging the fruit or the tree seems like a pretty complicated task from a robotics standpoint. I'm sure Honda or a couple of CMU grad students could demo something that can pick an orange from a tree--but picking a million oranges from thousands of trees in a real orchard is a different type of task entirely.

    Not saying it won't happen, but I'll believe it when I see it.

    Until then, this kind of looks like an R&D firm "picking the low hanging fruits" of funding from the immigration debate...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by brjndr ( 313083 )
      Grapes were always hand picked, and now they use mechanical harvesters. If the same economics can be applied to oranges, it won't take long for mechanical harvesters to become popular.

      This [] sums it up:

      "Mechanical harvesting is also cheaper, especially as yields increase: most estimates say that hand harvesting costs $125 to $150 a ton, while machine harvesting costs $65 to $85 a ton. Four hand harvesters can pick about one acre of grapes a day; a mechanical harvester, which uses a crew of five to harvest ar
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Immigration issues are nothing new. I think California's first immigrant labor crisis (post Mexican era) was in the 1950's. New York has had issues as well ("West Side Story"). I met a prof circa 1994 who claimed to have worked on a fruit picking machine. Apparently oranges are somewhat difficult...the picker needs to have a "feel" for the orange as the wrist is used to twist and pull the fruit. You don't want a stem left and you don't want a chunk of the protective rind to be pulled free. It took awhile to
  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @03:49AM (#19618037) Homepage Journal
    I have often stated that agricultural technology stagnates as long as there is cheap labor to do the work. When you can have some guy from Mexico come in, and pay him under the table illegally at wages well below state and federal minimums, there is no incentive to invest in technology.

    But when you wish to produce more crops with lower labor costs, in a world with rising labor costs, you end up having to invest in technology to take on the role of human beings. This is the wonder of agriculture in the industrialized world. Even something as simple as a combine harvester has had a dramatic impact on our society. It is inventions like that that enabled an industrial revolution to occur. As you no longer need as many people on the farm, that provides more people to work in industry and dramatically increases the number of people who become professional workers or skilled tradesmen.

    A poor third-world nation suffers greatly because it cannot scale its agriculture the same way as the industrialized nations. Everyone is working their tail off trying to do subsistence farming. they have no time to work at a trade that adds to their nations GDP/GNP. If a poor nation could increase agricultural output while decreasing the labor involved, you can reassign those people to producing things. the don't even have to be costly goods, it could be sewing clothing and footballs. But it's hard to industrialize when people are starving(a leading cause of disease in the third world) or working constantly to produce food (an insufficient amount of food). ... As for Mexico, they have all the education, tools and resources necessary to be a prosperous nation. They don't need to immigrate to the US and work for slave wages to feed their children. The real obstacles are the corrupt government and corrupt businesses that exploit the people. You leave Mexico because you're being exploited to work in the US where you are also exploited, but just to a lesser degree. That's a bogus argument for ignoring illegal immigration.

    You should either treat people as equals and protect them from exploitation, or you do not let them in. And guess who the primary victims of Latino gangs are? new illegal immigrants. Without control of the borders the ex-cons and thugs spill into the country and take over the Hispanic ghettos, victimizing the illegal immigrants. I don't know about you, but I think knowing who comes into your country and not letting in people without proper document is the opposite of racist/bigot, I think it's the compassionate choice.
  • by niceone ( 992278 ) * on Saturday June 23, 2007 @03:57AM (#19618055) Journal
    It will never work - those robots are huge, they will never make it across the border undetected.
  • So the fruit pickers will be from China instead of from Mexico.
  • Even if immigrants(legal or otherwise) no longer did fruit picking. They would still be cheapest for gardening, housekeeping,

    I would worry more about robots replacing legal service workers(could you imagine McDonalds automating its food
    preparation??? Walmart replacing most of its overnight stockworkers with stockbots.

  • Let them in! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rick Richardson ( 87058 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @06:37AM (#19618563) Homepage
    I say "open up the doors to foreigners and keep them open".
    I'm 50 years old and my Social Security depends on them.

  • I, for one... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by caudron ( 466327 ) on Saturday June 23, 2007 @12:05PM (#19620307) Homepage
    ...can't wait to live off the fruits of robotic labor.

    Tom Caudron []

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