Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

August 29, 2012

Slate: Stay out of my kitchen, robots

(Continued)

The quest here is to turn modern kitchen into a temple of modern-day Taylorism, with every task tracked, analyzed and optimized. Geeks hate making errors and love sticking to algorithms. That cooking thrives on failure and experimentation, that deviating from recipes is what creates culinary innovations and pushes the cuisine forward, is discarded as whimsical and irrelevant. For many such well-meaning innovators, the context of the practice they seek to improve doesn't matter — not as long as efficiency can be increased. As a result, chefs are imagined not as autonomous virtuosi or gifted craftsmen but as enslaved robots who should never defy the commands of their operating systems.

Another project mentioned in the New Scientist is even more degrading. A group of computer scientists at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan is trying to marry the logic of the kitchen with the logic of "augmented reality" — the fancy term for infusing our everyday environment with smart technologies.

To this end, the Japanese researchers have mounted cameras and projectors on the kitchen's ceiling so that they can project instructions — in the form of arrows, geometric shapes and speech bubbles guiding the cook through each step — right onto the ingredient. Thus, if you are about to cut a fish, the system will project a virtual knife and mark where exactly that knife ought to go on the fish's body. And there's also a tiny physical robot that sits on the countertop. Thanks to the cameras, it can sense that you've stopped touching the ingredients and inquire if you want to move on to the next step in the recipe.

Now, what exactly is "augmented" in such reality? It may be augmented technologically, but it also seems diminished intellectually. At best, we are left with "augmented diminished reality." Some geeks stubbornly refuse to recognize that challenges and obstacles — of which initial ignorance about the right way to cut the fish might be one — enhance rather than undermine the human condition. To make cooking easier is not necessarily to augment it — quite the opposite. To subject it fully to the debilitating logic of efficiency is to deprive humans of the ability to achieve mastery in this activity, to make human flourishing impossible and to impoverish our lives.

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