I’m on the verge of being exposed – and eliminated.
After two and half decades of writing about seemingly intractable problems that really just exemplify Buffalo Niagara’s inability to resolve anything, a pint-sized gizmo with computer chips for brains is ready to take my job.
When The Westin Buffalo’s Relay Robot delivered its first towels, toothpaste and cocktails to hotel guests last week, the ring of the phone when it dialed the room was the death knell for an entire genre of journalism.
The answer is simple: Robots are good at redundancy, and so, by necessity, are columnists. That’s especially true in places like Buffalo where the same issues keep popping up over and over because leaders – and I use the term charitably – can’t seem to solve them.
"Moral Mondays" and other demonstrations at job sites during the local construction boom?
That has been an issue ever since I came here in the 1980s, with minimal progress insufficient to pass the "eyeball test" of activists who still complain of not seeing workers of color building the SolarCity plant, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus or other big projects.
Campaign finance reform, including public funding to neuter special interests?
It’s a no-brainer, which is exactly how most New York politicians approach it year after year, scandal after scandal. Instead of expanding the comprehensive New York City model, the best they tried was a temporary sham system limited to the state comptroller’s office that even the comptroller – who backs real reform – rejected.
Adherence to the Open Meetings Law so that the public knows what’s being done in its name?
Elected officials regard the law more as a suggestion than a statute, and the lack of any real teeth in the measure means they can afford to.
The list goes on and on, an endless stream of column material.
But maybe not for me. Companies like Narrative Science and Automated Insights already have been experimenting with teaching machines how to write simple prose, taking sports or financial data, for instance, and converting it into basic stories.
It’s not too much of a leap to think that robots with an average computer brain can do a keyword search of past columns and cut and paste recommended solutions, with the names of public officials updated to reflect today’s crop of non-responsive politicians.
Sure robots can’t do snide, cynical or disparaging. But they don’t have to. It’s all there in past columns. They can just mine the appropriate degree of disgust to create a perfectly fresh opinion piece.
How ironic: What I once considered lifetime job security – the region’s inability to solve things – could become my pink slip.
Sure, the local auto plants have been using robots for years. But they were only seen by plant workers or the few who took plant tours. Now that Relay is roaming hotels, everyone – including the person who signs my paycheck – will know what they’re capable of.
Of course, Buffalo Niagara could always solve some problems, then move on to new ones, which would require the ingenuity of a human to comment on and keep me in a job. Solving some problems also would be good for the region.
However, no one is counting on that.
But don’t fret about me. I’m sure I can be retrained – to deliver towels and toothpaste.