Viral TikTok of ‘robot manicure’ sparks debate about role of automation in future: ‘Rise of the machines’

·2-min read
 (TikTok / @elissamaercklein)
(TikTok / @elissamaercklein)

A viral TikTok showing a woman’s “robot manicure” has sparked a conversation about the human roles that will be taken over by automation in the future.

This week, Elissa Maercklein, who goes by the username @elissamaercklein on TikTok, uploaded a video of her experience having her nails done at Clockwork, a new San Francisco-based company that claims to have the “world’s first nail painting robot”.

In the video, Maercklein shows the end result of her $8 manicure, before showing the step-by-step process, with the TikTok user sitting in front of a pink machine as it works on her fingers one by one.

“I got a robot manicure today for $8 in San Francisco and this is what it went like,” she wrote on the TikTok, captioning the clip: “Living in the future.”

According to the company’s website, it has created the “first robot manicure for unstoppable humans,” adding that the automated process means: “No slip-ups. No slow down. No small talk.”

The startup also claims to provide a faster service than one would normally receive at a nail salon, with the company stating: “The average woman spends 3,120 minutes a year on her nails. We’ll get you in and out in less than 10.”

However, on TikTok, where Maercklein’s video has been viewed more than 7.2m times, people are divided in their reactions, with some acknowledging the upsides of the technology, while others have expressed their dismay over the possibility that robots will replace jobs.

“I’m so awkward at nail salons, this is incredible,” one person commented, while another said: “Nice alternative when you’re not up for human interaction.”

Others have responded negatively to the startup, with someone else writing: “The future is going to put so many people out of jobs… it’s cool until it’s not.”

“This is kind of sad, I love my nail lady. She works so hard for her business,” another viewer commented, with one person adding: “This is so sad.”

There were also those fearful about the technology performing correctly, with one viewer revealing that they “would live in constant fear that my fingers would get chopped off”.

While the company is still in its early stages, its founders Renuka Apte and Aaron Feldstein told The New York Times that they don’t believe Clockwork will result in any job losses at nail salons, because the device “would function as an extra service”.

Although the robot, and others like it, can paint nails by scanning nail shape using cameras within the device, it cannot, as of now, buff or shape nails, or provide any other services typically enjoyed during a manicure.

The founders also noted that there are several safety features built into the robot, including a “plastic-tipped cartridge that won’t pierce a finger”.

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