How to Train Your Robot Replacement

In the coming months and years, many of you will be handing your job over to robots, freeing up time to indulge your humanity however you see fit. In order for this transition to go smoothly, you’ll need to bring your robot replacement up to speed. My good friend Peter Hastings was recently replaced by a robot, and, for the purposes of instruction, he has agreed to share the letter he wrote to the robot overlord that assumed his duties earlier this year:

Dear Mr. Overlord:

Congratulations. I understand that you will be taking over my position as branch manager of SweatCorp’s Midwest offices here in Minneapolis, supervising what’s left of our human workforce and transitioning the company to an exciting all-digital, all-robot future. Before my building pass is deactivated, management has requested that I leave you a detailed overview of my job responsibilities, and bring you up to speed on the status of current projects, after which you are free to move as fast as you want. And because you are a robot, not a middle-aged man, I expect that you will move very fast indeed. Wicked fast, I’m told—24/7 without so much as a bathroom break.


But l digress. Here’s what you really need to know about the job:

To begin with, I need to warn you about Steve. He’s the floor manager of the operation, and he’s been around forever, so he’s fairly set in his ways. Also, he has not embraced the future as willingly as I and others have, so he has a rather strong bias against robots. Don’t get me wrong, he loves machines, just not ones that are smarter than him. I only mention Steve because he has a quick temper and can fly off the handle sometimes. Usually he’s just letting off steam, but there will be times when you need to tread carefully around him. I find that praising him every now and then for a job well done improves his mood considerably, and it helps if you overlook the fact that he takes suspiciously long smoking breaks.

Then there’s Diane. She is your human assistant, and will do whatever you ask (within reason). The thing about Diane is that she’s recently divorced and her daughter has cerebral palsy, so she often has to leave early to take little Suzie to doctor’s appointments, or, if the girl has had an episode at school, retrieve her and take her home. On top of that, Diane herself has Crohn’s disease, which is why she goes to the bathroom so often, especially if she gets anxious or too much work piles up on her desk. So managing her workflow is important, and making allowances for her unfortunate circumstances is just something I do, because nobody has a bigger heart than Diane.

Also, every Friday, the boys in sales (and that includes Eileen) play a little poker in the lunchroom. Technically that’s illegal, of course, but it’s great for morale and they play for small stakes (a $20 buy-in if you’re interested), so I turn a blind eye. If you block your sensor (or whatever mechanism you use to see), they’ll love you for it and will be more willing to pitch in when things get hectic.

As you may know, many of our suppliers are a little behind the curve when it comes to the robot revolution, so human error creeps into the process every now and then. Slater Industries, who supplies the solvents and lubricants we use to keep things running smoothly, has supply-chain issues a few times a year, due to the fact that they are a relatively small company, and the owner, Jack Giffin, is crazy. It’s either bi-polar or schizoid personality disorder, I can’t remember which, but it makes his behavior, um, erratic at times, so be forewarned. When I get wind that he’s having an episode (Bill, his son, usually gives me a courtesy call), I just wait a week to let things blow over. That means you have to keep at least an extra week of supplies on hand, of course, but we’ve been doing business with Jack for twenty years, so it’s basically baked into the process at this point.

Of course, you won’t just be dealing with humans; a whole new wave of machines and systems has come online in the past year or so. Most of them aren’t equipped with artificial intelligence, though, so to you they are probably going to seem pretty stupid. The copy machine is especially troublesome. He sucks toner like you wouldn’t believe, and even though he can sort, collate, stable, and bind, he still gets paper jams at least two or three times a day. Can’t do a damn thing about it himself, either, so someone has to reach in there and clear the feed. It’s usually me, but anyone with hands can get the job done.

Then there’s the fax machine—yes, we still have one!—which we keep online because some of our customers still prefer to send in orders that way. We’ve been trying to move the whole system online, but ever since that big hacking scandal a couple of years ago, some people are still skeptical about the safety and security of their data. Maybe you can convince them, I don’t know. Anyway, the orders get backed up sometimes, so you have to reset the thing manually. It’s a pain, and Jenny used to handle it, but there’s no one at the front desk anymore, so you may have to assign someone to that task.

You’re going to love our new 3D printer, though. It’s amazing. You just program it to make the part you need and bam, half an hour later it’s done. One thing to know: If you let it run too long, some of the nozzles start to clog, and if that happens you have to shut the thing down, clean the nozzles, and start over. It’s not that big a deal, but if it happens near the end of a “print,” it can be annoying. On the plus side, we’ve started a little museum of sorts of parts that didn’t quite print according to plan. It’s hilarious—you should take a look when you get a chance.

As I understand it, IT problems are going to be handled from here on out by a network of “smart” computers that can diagnose and fix themselves. Which sounds great. I’ll just warn you now that the the “d” and “p” keys on my computer keyboard stick every now and then, probably because some muffin crumbs got under the keyboard. Then again, that probably doesn’t matter to you, because you’ve got one of those new synaptic linkup thingies. Being connected directly to the network at all times wouldn’t be my personal choice, but hey, different strokes for different blokes. Also, the server to sector five sends out random error messages every now and then, for no apparent reason, so you’ll want to look into that.

You will of course be responsible for coordinating all the office’s shipping and receiving, but I’m told you have some specially developed software that makes those tasks a breeze, so I won’t bore you with that stuff. Just be aware that the roof in the warehouse leaks sometimes when it’s raining really hard, so you might want to stay out of there during big thunderstorms.

That’s about all I can think of right now. I wish you the best of luck in your new assignment, and hope you enjoy the position as much as I have. If you need to reach me, I will be available for the next couple of weeks, but after that I’ll be retiring to my cabin up north, where the cell reception is pretty spotty. The fishing is good, though, and you can’t beat the stars at night.   


Peter J. Hastings

P.S. I’m not sure if robots ever have bad days, but if you do, there’s a fifth of Jim Beam in the bottom desk drawer. Leaving it behind for the next guy is kind of a tradition at SweatCorp., so now I’m leaving it for you. Cheers!