We're teaching robots how to carve bones from flesh. Good idea or bad idea?

Sometimes the similarities between human and pig bodies is neat. Right now it’s terrifying. That’s because I’ve just seen a robot that can carve the bone out of a ham hock in a few seconds. Japan’s 4th annual Robot Awards of the Year hailed Mayekawa’s HAMDAS-R as one of the best innovations for small business. De-boning meat has typically been the work of skilled human butchers on an assembly line. The HADMAS-R would let companies de-bone 500 hams in an hour using only 10 workers instead of the normal 20. Labor costs aren’t the only thing this robot may be cutting in half. Mayekawa has plans to expand its carving skills to include fish, vegetables and other food products. Basically, any “irregularly shaped soft items” are fair game for robotic dismemberment. Watch the HAMDAS-R slice bones from pig flesh in the video below. I don’t know about you, but this ‘irregularly shaped soft item’ is a little intimidated by that robot’s expertise with a knife.

Forget the allusions to robotic physical violence and you may still find the HAMDAS-R threatening. That’s because every part of the food industry is vulnerable to automation. From harvesting fruit to milking cows, we’re designing robots that can replace humans at their jobs. Despite the disruptions to employment this may cause, there are some clear advantages to giving hard labor to bots. As Mayekawa shows, machines can help human workers do the food processing jobs faster when such workers can’t be replaced outright. They also improve sanitation conditions, and provide consistency in output. The economic incentives are clear, and so we’re likely to see automation claim a bigger role in all levels of food production in the years ahead. I’m in favor of efficiency, so I can’t complain. Still, for the sake of fore-stalling the eventual robotic apocalypse, can we all agree not to give this robot wheels? A machine that can pluck the bone out of my leg is nightmarish enough, if I saw one that could chase me down to do it I’d never sleep again.

*Thanks to DrNemmo for the ‘irregularly shaped soft item’ joke.
[screen capture and video credits: DigInfo News]
[sources: DigInfo News, Mayekawa]