In a new article from i4u, French industrial designers have developed a robot tattoo arm which can tattoo human canvasses with pinpoint precision. The designs are uploaded into the machine, which can work autonomously. In the recorded human trials, a human supervisor controlled the machines speed to ensure comfort for the receiver. ““Inherently, industrial machines are really designed to be working separate to people, behind big barricades,” said David Thomasson, a principal research engineer for strategic innovations at Autodesk. “The standards don’t exist for this robot so our health and safety team went through that in minute detail and got advice from external groups.”
The article makes the mistake of concluding that health and safety concerns mean that we won’t see this machine in action for a long time. I disagree for a couple of reasons. (1.) You are worried the machine will make a mistake. Well, has your human tattoo artist been drug and alcohol tested? How are they feeling on the day they perform for you? What is their blood sugar level? Humans are full of variables and variables lead to risk. (2.) Machines are already interacting with human in much more dangerous ways. Robots can drive your vehicle, perform your surgery, run the electricity grid and nuclear power plants. We trust them with our lives everyday – so tattooing is a short hurdle to jump. Robots will be available to tattoo people. But will customers choose a robot?
Tattooing has its roots in archaic society and many people claim to have a bond with their artist. Tattooing is seen by some as a social activity, a time to talk and relax. These particular individuals may not elect for a robo-procedure. Pew Research Center conducted studies on tattooing in modern America (results below).
- 49% of people with tattoos think the reputation of the artist or studio is the most important factor. What would be the reputation of a studio who performed perfect work, every time? Reputation takes decades to earn and seconds to lose and a robo-rig that delivered exactly as promised, down to the micron would have a great reputation.
- 43% of people with tattoos think that a tattoo with a personal meaning is the most important factor. If the tattoo’s meaning is derived from client / provider interaction, then a human artist will win the work. However, I would guess that most respondents derive the tattoos meaning from the image or artwork itself – an important date, symbol or phrase. For these clients, having the work transferred onto their bodies in the most accurate way possible is going to be important.
But this website is about technological unemployment. Assuming that humans do opt for a robotic tattoo, then we are talking about the disruption of a $1.65-billion-dollar industry. If each tattoo shop goes from 3 artists to 1 administrator (to take bookings and load the designs etc.) then we are looking at 42,000 artists out of work. Ok, it is not a gigantic figure. Foxconn in China replaced 60,000 workers with robots in a single move. But it destroys the narrative pushed by mainstream pundits i.e. that technology will create jobs. How many tattoo artists are going to spend 5 years at university, re-skilling to work on machine vision or artificial intelligence?