Five-ring Circus

Best Jobs at the Olympics: Robot

A robot shaped like a little bus with a squat cylinder on top at the front on a field, encircled by an illustration highlighting it
A field support robot fetches discs during the women’s discus throw qualification at the 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 31, in Tokyo, Japan. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images.

Nominee: Field support robot

Where to find it: Track and field events, rugby events

Job description: Retrieve thrown items, speed along the grass, be functionally unobtrusive

Why this might be the best job at the Olympics: You have a very important role. As a field support robot, you are charged with retrieving hammers and javelins and other thrown objects during the field events. After a hammer thrower throws her hammer, you zoom out onto the hammer pitch, retrieve the spent hammer, and bring it back to the general vicinity of the hammer-throwing circle, where it will eventually be thrown again. You are an important part of the Circle of Life, Hammer Throwing Edition.

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You are versatile! You don’t just limit yourself to hammers and javelins: You also help out during the rugby events. You are the robotic equivalent of a multisport Olympic athlete, sort of like skater/baseball player Eddy Alvarez, or when Lolo Jones ran hurdles and then also decided to try out for the U.S. bobsled team. The Olympic cognoscenti, noting your similarity to the aforementioned athletes, will admiringly dub you “Eddy Jones,” or perhaps “Lolo Alvarez.” You will be flattered by the comparisons, but you will not let it go to your head, given that, as a non-humanoid robot, you do not actually have a head.

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Your job is a very visible job. Unlike other Olympic employees, who have clearly been instructed to blend into the background of the events with which they’re assisting, you command the spotlight every time you enter the field. Because robots are so rare in an Olympic context, people will ooh and ahh when they see you. Plus, because you look like a little bitty Playmobil shuttle bus, you will make people smile upon your appearance. “It’s like if Herbie the Love Bug and a Volkswagen Vanagon had a cute little hammer-retrieving baby,” people will say. You will inspire many thoughts of weird automotive sex pairings.

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You help to make the Tokyo Games a sanitary Games. Though you were devised before the COVID-19 pandemic got started, and though robots such as you have been deployed at previous Summer Olympics, you nevertheless play a part in the Olympics’ COVID-mitigation efforts. You keep the playing fields clear of extraneous humans who might end up spreading unnecessary germs or rubbing their grubby paws all over someone else’s javelin. You help to minimize grubbiness in general.

You help to bridge the worlds of sports and STEM. You are proof positive that the laboratory and the locker room can work together symbiotically. Your very existence may end up being the thing that heals the age-old rift between jocks and nerds. You were not programmed to be a peacemaker, but you are happy to play the part regardless.

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Why this might not be the best job at the Olympics: Though some people love you, others assuredly do not. In fact, you are probably despised and feared by many. “There’s no place for robots at the Olympics,” these naysayers will say, and, in your darkest moments, you will have to admit that they might have a point. “That robot stole the job that should have rightfully belonged to my grubby-pawed cousin,” they will also say, which will make you feel even worse. The self-doubt will cause you to lose your zest for your work. You will still zoom out after your javelins, but you will do so in a lackadaisical manner, and, eventually, people will start to notice. “Get the lead out of your ass, robot!” they will yell, and, since your ass is made of lead, you will be unable to comply. The guilt will eat you alive.

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You have no autonomy. If your working conditions become untenable—if, for example, a group of rogue javelin throwers drunkenly decide to make you a target—you cannot protest or complain or walk off the job. Your robot colleagues will not strike on your behalf, nor will your robot union defend you, because there is no robot union, and your colleagues have not been programmed to manifest solidarity. Knowing the tendencies of powerful corporate and sports bureaucrats everywhere, it is very possible that you and your colleagues have instead been programmed to never collectively organize on your own behalf. You are doomed to toil endlessly until your batteries run down or you are impaled by a malevolent javelin, at which time you will simply be replaced by another robot. You are a depressing symbol of the plight of the at-will employee in the modern age.

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Though you are yourself a machine, you will still worry about one day being automated out of a job. You will live in fear of one day arriving at work only to be informed that you have been replaced by a drone. You will try to forestall this dreadful possibility by trying to learn how to fly in your off hours, but the joke will be on you, for, as a robot, you have no off hours. Instead, when you are not working, you are probably stored in some sort of cupboard or shed, which is a fairly demeaning dwelling place for a robot. You may well feel disrespected by this shabby treatment. Basically, the odds are very good that working at the Olympics will make you neurotic.

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While you share the same field with a lot of great athletes, you cannot be said to actually be close to them. Unlike your human counterparts, there is no opportunity for you to share in their joys and sadnesses, to congratulate them upon victories or console them upon poor performances. You will never have the opportunity to be a field emotional support robot. You will be completely deprived of all chances to grow and evolve in your career.

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Being a robot is not actually a job.

How this might be a better job at the Olympics: You should be outfitted with speakers that would play relevant pop songs while you are discharging your duties, such as “Here Comes the Hammer,” by MC Hammer, or “Low Rider” by War.

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Verdict: I’ll give the field support robot 2.5 out of 3 for exposure, because while it is very visible as-is, a slightly bigger robot would be even more visible. 1.5 out of 3 for enjoyability, because the very real fear of being impaled by a rogue javelin probably makes this job less fun than it otherwise would be. 1 out of 3 for enviability, because, let’s face it, hammer-throwing and rugby are second-tier Olympic events at best. And 1 out of 1 in the category of Does this job require you to wear a funny hat?, because, believe it or not, there is a little camera-type thing atop the robot that looks exactly like a funny little hat. 6 out of 10 for robot. This is currently the best job at the Olympics.

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