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Newsflash! Robots can't live without us

Newsflash! Robots can't live without us

PASADENA, Calif. — The future came here this week. But it hit with a thud as reality quickly sunk in.

We’re not ready for the Robot Age. Not yet.

The growing robotic list goes way beyond factory production lines to include self-driving cars, delivery drones and especially the one we encountered this past week, the burger-flipper.

Credit: Jefferson Graham
Patrons at the Pasadena Caliburger restaurant are greeted by a sign saying that Flippy, the burger flipping robot is coming soon

On its surface, the idea sounds like a no-brainer: Replace young men and women who can’t take the heat and monotony of standing over a hot griddle -- and end up quitting in weeks, if not months -- with a robot.

A $100,000 robot can grill hamburgers to perfection all day long. It never takes a break, or a sick day while turning out as many as 2,000 identical burgers a day.

Flippy the robot opened for business Monday at the Caliburger restaurant in Pasadena with huge fanfare.  From here to England, reporters from around the world marveled at the machine that threatened to take away human jobs while improving productivity and consistency.

By Tuesday, the Cali Group, the company that operates the Caliburger chain and Miso Robotics, which made Flippy, decided to shut the 'bot down until further notice.

Don't blame the robot, the company insisted. Flippy could still work the grill, but it needed help. Lots of it. From humans.

Credit: Jefferson Graham
A human made cheeseburger from Caliburger in Pasadena

Cali Group executives expected light interest in the story, but then “hundreds” of calls from all over the world started flooding in. Cali realized it didn’t have enough staff to both take the calls and the knowledge of how to work with Flippy, says Anthony Lomelino, the Cali Group Chief Technology Officer.  

So it took a timeout to train folks on how to prepare patties for Flippy and then get them into buns with all the fixins'. Flippy does the flipping, but humans do the rest. 

Patrons trickled in Thursday to get a look at the robot, only to be greeted by a sign that said Flippy would be “cooking soon,” with the time listed as “TBA.” Spokeswoman Stephanie Ciriglino insists the company is "on track" to bring Flippy back Monday, but just during the prime lunch hours. 

Credit: Jefferson Graham
The Pasadena location of Caliburger has a stage devoted to the new robot making hamburgers, "Flippy's Kitchen"

A big stage had been built for the robot, entitled “Flippy’s Kitchen,” where patrons could take selfies with the burger flipping machine and watch it do its thing.

But Flippy’s stage was dark.

Arthur Reeder, who works in web development in Long Beach, Calif., was snapping smartphone photos of the dormant robot. “I’m a little bummed,” he told us. “I thought robots weren’t supposed to take vacations.”

He was interested to check out Flippy, as he believes that robots will eventually take away all of our jobs, “yours, mine, everyone’s...we can’t avoid it.” But that after seeing Flippy, he thought of the self-service payment kiosks at grocery stores “that are always breaking down,” and needed human involvement to complete the transaction.

Take a deep breath. The future is going to take a lot longer to arrive than any of us expected.

It turns out, we really do need us humans after all.

Credit: Jefferson Graham
An overhead shot of the Sunset Bronson studios, home base for Netflix in Hollywood

In other tech news this week: 

Netflix invited dozens of reporters to its facilities in Hollywood and Los Gatos, to bring journalists "inside" Netflix. At a meet-and-greet with reporters, CEO Reed Hastings said he expects the streaming service to have $15 billion in revenue this year, up from $11 billion in 2017. Of Netflix's 117 million subscribers, some 3.3 million still use the DVD-by-mail service. He said he was in no rush to shut down that old technology, and expects to continue sending out the red envelopes for at least another five years. 

The reviews came out for Samsung's new Galaxy S9 and S9+ phones this week, with most praising the minimal changes, improved camera, and super slo-mo features. USA TODAY's tech reviewer Ed Baig called it a "solid, but modest" upgrade. The phones go on sale March 16. 

That weird laugh possibly coming from your Amazon Echo speaker was a big story this week as Amazon confirmed its odd existence. "It turns out that in rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase “Alexa, laugh” even when that’s not what was said," writes Elizabeth Weise. "Alexa then interprets the phrase as a command and laughs." Amazon has changed the phrase necessary to make Alexa laugh to, “Alexa, can you laugh?” she notes, which should be less likely to generate false positives.

MoviePass removed an "unused app location capability" after comments from its CEO surfaced about the potential for its service to track consumers. The app offers subscription pricing for monthly movie attendance. CEO Mitch Lowe had suggested it could follow users to deliver a broader experience.  The company released a statement following Lowe's remarks claiming it was considering options such as restaurant recommendations or parking discounts as a way to offer a "complete moviegoing experience" by leveraging users' location data.

Credit: Jefferson Graham
Nine-year-old Zadie Kruglov tells us why she loves the "Story Pirates" podcast for kids.

This week's Talking Tech podcasts

A 9-year-old tells why she loves the Story Pirates podcast, the show where a troupe of performers adapt stories submitted by kids. 

I ate a robot hamburger. My review of the Flippy burger, before the robot burger flipper was shut down. 

Put down the phone in the car. Melody Saffery from Belkin International previews the new Car Charger kit for the iPhone X, to keep the phone out of our hands while we drive. 

Inside Netflix: our report from Netflix's press session in Hollywood this week. 

Get more women into tech now. On International Women's Day, Saffery and Erika Lieser, who is also an exec at Belkin, spoke directly to parents, to tell them why they should get their young girls involved in tech, on #TalkingTech.

My amazing, colossal interview with Gilbert Gottfried. The comedian chats his unique podcast, (Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing, Colossal Podcast) which features Hollywood telling stories about yesteryear, on #TalkingTech. 

That's it for this week's Talking Tech weekend wrap. Please subscribe to the TalkingTech newsletter via this link. Follow me on Twitter, @JeffersonGraham and check out my YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/jeffersongraham. If you haven't checked out the daily #TalkingTech podcast yet, now's the time. You can listen on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio or wherever you enjoy online audio. 

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