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My Barber Will Save Me From The Robot Singularity

April 13, 2016

Nice to see the weather finally warming up.

Yeah. Predicting rain for Wednesday, but it looks like Winter is finally gone.

We’ll be complaining about the heat in another couple of months.

Okay, you’re done.

I got a haircut last weekend. The conversation is rarely about much more than the weather. I go to Dean’s Style Shop in Orem, UT. I’ve been going to Dean’s for about 15 years. In all that time I’ve never seen Dean. In fact, Dean passed away five years ago and I don’t think he cut hair for 20 years before that. My barber is named Mary. 

(Photo credit: Daily Herald)

I like having her cut my hair because I hate haircuts. But, after 15 years, I don’t even have to tell Mary how to cut my hair. In fact, every time I sit down in her chair, she says the same thing.

So, shorten you up a little?

Then, Mary goes to work and in less than 10 minutes I have the haircut not only that I want, but that I’ve had for the past 15 years.

Barbers are an interesting group. They’ve been around for centuries. Gioachino Rossini’s opera “The Barber of Seville” was written in 1816. I’ve never seen it, but apparently I’ve heard the music. (Think Figaro.) The barber in “Man of La Mancha” sings a song about the enduring need for barbers:

Oh, I am a little barber
And I go my merry T way
With my razor and my leeches
I can always earn my pay

Though your chin be smooth as satin
You will need me soon I know
For the Lord protects His barbers
And He makes the stubble grow

If I slip when I am shaving you
And cut you to the quick
You can use me as a doctor
‘Cause I also heal the sick

In fact, barbers used to be doctors. The barber pole, with it’s red and blue lines is designed to look like blood spiraling down a pole. Barbers are one of the few professions that have kept their ancient symbol and use it today. Obviously, we don’t go to the barber today when we are sick. We go to the doctor. 

And here’s where I wanted to talk about robots. 

I enjoy the Demotivator site. One of my favorite posters says:

If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.

(Photo credit:

You already use robot doctors. Don’t believe me? Google can track flu outbreaks better than the CDC simply by tracking where people are searching for the symptoms. Even brain surgeons use tiny robot controlled instruments to assist in delicate operations. Researchers are investigating the ability to create nanobots: Tiny robots that will live inside us and fight disease, or clear clogged arteries. 

Barbers used to be doctors. Now we have robots being doctors.

But, there is a really important role that barbers fill that robots can’t. Robots can’t cut hair. I haven’t even seen any research on trying to get robots to cut hair. There’s a silly scene in the movie “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” that shows Jimmy, a cartoon computer genius, using a robot to try out different hair styles. 

(Photo Credit: Paramount 2001) (What the full clip here.)

But, even in science fiction movies, the role of barber hasn’t really been taken over by automation. 

Mary uses an electric razor to cut my hair and a vacuum to get the little pieces out after she’s done. But, much of her work is done the same way it’s been done for centuries: a comb and a pair of scissors. 

The actor Alec Baldwin described a haircut as “A suit for your head.” It’s nice to know that when the robots come for our jobs, when the suits we wear are all shiny foil looking ones, when my job has been replaced by a robot, I can still go see Mary and for ten minutes talk about the weather as she does the job that no robot ever can. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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