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Espresso: Rise of the Machines

Are we the only ones who were disappointed that the Tassimo Brewbot didn't actually look like this?
They're coming for our jobs. "They" aren't union members, foreigners, or any of the usual bugaboos regularly trotted out by paranoid politicians of a certain stripe. They, in this case, are machines that are as close as your nearest factory -- or your favorite home electronics store. As if the job market in many places weren't tight enough, Technological developments stand to make it much worse. "We've reached a tipping point where technology is now destroying more jobs than it creates," says Business Insider's Cadie Thompson. This isn't, of course, the first time there've been fears about mechanization or automation of work. While "Luddite" has become a catch-all for people who fear technology, the term has its origins in English textile workers who revolted against the introduction of powered looms and other forms of mechanization. A century after the Luddites, Karel Čapek's R.U.R. gave robots their name in the course of exploring what robotics might mean for society.
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But concerns over automation aren't just the stuff of science fiction, and there's a sense that these days concerns about a robot taking your job isn't idle alarmism. The manufacturing sector has long benefited from robotics, and other parts of the economy that have traditionally relied on humans -- including logistics, shipping, and fabrication -- are increasingly turning to automation. As artificial intelligence evolves and improves, even office workers, writers and journalists are looking over their shoulders. Another group that might soon be doing the same is baristas. According to another article in Business Insider, the humble Nespresso out-performed a barista in a blind taste test, and many restaurants -- not just any restaurants, mind you, we're talking about Michelin-starred establishments -- are relying on Nespresso machines to turn out espresso quickly and reliably. This comes on the heels of Starbucks quietly taking cappuccino off its menu (you can still order it, but they're not calling attention to it), and their seeming inability to make a decent flat white. Baristas aren't an endangered species yet, but as single-serve machines make a McDonalds-like consistency possible, it's easy to foresee that more establishments could hop on the single-serve bandwagon. We understand the appeal of machines. They don't ask for raises, they don't go on strike, and they don't complain about unsafe working conditions or customers with terrible attitudes. But we still maintain that the human factor in coffee, as with so much else in life, still has a lot to offer for all its imperfections. Sure, the day may come when someone devises a gloomy single-serve coffee bot with facial recognition and a handlebar mustache who doesn't even have to ask for your order, but the human touch -- the interaction, the inventiveness, and yes, even the mistakes -- should still count for something.