The Robots

The robots are moving in to take away all the repetitive jobs: filing paperwork, sweeping streets, driving trains, mowing lawns, bagging groceries… they’ll dominate the world without us even noticing. Now that they’re able to perform maintenance on themselves, they’ve become totally self-sufficient.

Say goodbye to your local apple farmer. There’s a robot that can pull all the unripe tomatoes from 800 metric tonnes of tomatoes in an hour. There’s a robot that can shake all the ripe olives out of an olive tree with enough restraint to leave the unripe fruit on the branches. There’s even a robot that can shoot all the fruit flies out of the air with a laser beam.

You already deal with an automatic bank teller; how about an electronic insurance underwriter? Or, maybe a digital librarian or a bionic cash register operator? I’ll tell you the good news: we can say “see ya” to tax assessors and parking inspectors. The only problem is that they’ll be more effective than ever.

There’s one hurdle that the robots can’t overcome however. No matter how sophisticated their neural algorithms, they can’t seem to conquer a flight of stairs.

Fratello Pietro shaves the top of his head like all the brothers in his Franciscan order. The Italian sun has just enough potency to give his dome a tan. He waits at the bottom of the steps patiently, knowing that this is his calling. He has a role to play and he is proud to play it.

For half a millennia there has been a job description that only a few people hold, and Fratello Pietro holds that title. Who do you think carries the bags for feeble pilgrims when they reach the Basilica of Saint Francis? That’s the job of the “Franciscan porter.”

An aged American tourist stands at the foot of the steps. She looks up with dread before Fratello Pietro approaches. “Oh, don’t worry honey, I’m a tourist, not a pilgrim.” It’s of no importance to Pietro. Anyone who comes in good faith is deserving of his helping hand. He takes her forearm and leads her to the top with a glistening smile and a warm send-off.

Fratello Pietro extends a challenge to all the robots, “if you can beat me at my job, then you deserve it.” He rightly feels that his job will be safe for the next half millennia.

T.

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