I hate to spark widespread panic, but it appears I could not have been more correct.
I am referring, of course, to the insightful columns I have written in recent years warning of the inevitable Robot Revolution, wherein all of our state-of-the-art smart appliances develop supreme artificial intelligence and morph into cruel robotic overlords that will enslave mankind for generations.
I first began to suspect robots were poised to seize power several years ago when everyone started buying the Roomba, those little flying saucer-shaped vacuum cleaners that bump around and clean your carpets while you, the unsuspecting human, lie on the couch and eat Häagen-Dazs directly from the container.
This fear worsened when my editor handed me a glossy flyer promoting the Husqvarna Automower, a robotic lawnmower that automatically cuts your grass while you, a slothful human, sit in a lawn chair and shout for your significant other to fetch cold beer and greasy snacks.
Then I received an unsolicited email from a California-based company called Travelmate Robotics, promoting "the world’s first all-purpose robot and suitcase," an artificially intelligent suitcase that follows you around the airport like a cute little puppy.
Just last month, my level of alarm went through the roof when, in a sincere effort to make everyone else lose sleep, I wrote a feature describing the invention of a robotic sheep dog; a robot massage therapist; a robot delivery person; a robot standup comedian; and an ice-skating robot destined to replace overpriced human NHL players.
As alarming as those developments were, they do not hold a screwdriver to the news reports I stumbled on this week when I went online to see how people other than me were handling desperately needed visits to the hairstylist amid COVID-19 restrictions.
There I discovered a series of hair-raising stories that prove the Robot Revolution is finally underway and it’s only a matter of time before puny humans are subjugated by our toaster ovens.
These stories focused on a brilliant young engineer in North Carolina named Shane Wighton, who has become something of an online legend for the inventions he has unveiled on his wildly popular YouTube channel, Stuff Made Here.
Wighton has risen to fame for creating such life-altering devices as a robotic basketball hoop that automatically adjusts the position of the backboard to ensure, no matter how lousy your shot is, it goes straight through the net. He also built a robotic golf club that turns an amateur into a pro by allowing you to dial up the distance you want to hit the ball, then automatically adjusting the angle of the club face.
But earlier this month, in a 13-minute video I have watched multiple times on your behalf, Wighton unveiled his greatest and most terrifying invention — a robot barber! Yes, tired of his lockdown-lengthened locks, and unwilling to visit a barber shop amid loosened pandemic restrictions, he designed and built a robot that would do everything a human stylist could do.
In the video, Wighton looks like he’s poking his head out of a washing machine, while a large robotic arm wielding scissors and a vacuum pivots around his shaggy head.
"I look very silly in this machine," he says on the video posted July 14. "The reason I’m in here is the longer I go without cutting my hair, the younger I look. If you base my age on the YouTube comments on my videos, I’m somewhere between a 14-year-old and 16-year-old boy... It’s time to cut my hair.
"I would rather not have someone cut my hair who’s also touching 100 other people’s heads all day long, so I built this robot... It’s a hair-cutting robot; it’s going to cut my hair the hard way — using scissors — I’m a little bit worried because the initial trials with the dummy didn’t go smoothly. My prediction is it will give me something between totally terrible and a five-dollar haircut."
I am not an engineer, but basically the robot barber employs scissors, sensors, probes, cameras, advanced object-detection algorithms, 3D-printed parts, and a program that allows you to select your futuristic hairstyle. Like the infamous Flowbee haircutting device from the 1980s, a vacuum inside the robot sucks the hair to pull it tight, then the robotic scissors go in for the kill.
It even engages in heartfelt hairstylist small talk as follows:
Robot: "Do anything fun this weekend?"
Wighton: "It was really sad. My dog died."
Robot: "Oh, wow, cool!"
Best of all, you get to watch the haircut, which took roughly an hour, in time-lapse photography while Wighton displays facial expressions of abject horror.
"About midway through I realized there was a bug in my code that made it cut about six times as many locations on my head as it needed to," the upbeat inventor confides at the end.
"It gave me a robotically perfect mullet... Even if this thing gives me a terrible haircut, I still feel like I’ve won. How many people have a robot-made haircut? It’s basically art."
Think about that for a moment, kids. The best the world’s first robot barber could do was a (bad word) mullet. This revolution is going to be even worse than I thought.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.