A modern-day Christmas tale

The story of Santa is told to kids the world over, but it changes a little with geography and time.

In fact, Santa as we know him is a mish-mash of the historical and mythical tales of Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Christkind, and Woodan.

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In some Western European countries, there’s good versus evil motif, such as Germany, where Santa has an evil twin called Krampus (subject of a recent terrible horror movie), and in France Pere Noel rewards good children while Le Pere Fouettard beats naughty children.

In Italy Le Befana is a witch who delivers gifts on a broomstick. In Scandanavian countries, there’s Tomte the gift-giving gnome. And in Iceland there are the 13 Santas – or Jolasveinar – who are the sons of mountain trolls.

Over the years these many Santas have evolved to look like the Santa of American pop culture that was the baby of capitalism and the knickerbockers, and Thomas Nast and Coca-Cola. So that around the world as a result of globalization and the free market economy the Santa tale has become more homogenous.

So shouldn’t Santa change again for the digital age?

Santa who runs a complex toy building and distribution business that has penetrated markets across the entire world? Do we really believe that this mad genius is relying on Christmas magic alone and not even a little on the magic of modern technology?

I propose a new and far more credible Santa myth.

Santa’s workshop

Santa’s elves are probably great. I imagine they are cute, cuddly and maybe even Will Ferrell hilarious, but there are a lot of toys to be made.

In addition, this is the age of international human (and elvish) rights, and elves deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s about time to end the elvish enslavement in Santa’s sweat shops.

Luckily, manufacturing has changed a lot since the sweatshops of the industrial revolution and even since the days when American companies needed to shift manufacturing overseas to foreign sweatshops (not so unlike Santa moving production to the North Pole where there is no business regulation, no minimum wage, and no other jobs available).

Santa needs an upgrade.

Enter the “advanced manufacturing” sector. Since the end of the recession advanced manufacturing has been growing on average at almost twice the rate of the overall economy. This sector which has embraced technological innovation has led the way, enabling manufacturers to develop higher-quality products at lower cost. It is time for Santa to embrace “advanced manufacturing” too. This means that from now on Santa’s toys will be made with a new set of tools.

  • Robotics that will turn Santa’s workshop into an automated powerhouse and likely displace many of those cuddly elves – although not entirely.
  • Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing manufacturing, which will enable Santa to use digital designs to prototype designs with little resource outlay before mass production.
  • Connected factories” fully equipped with IoT devices that are linked to each other so that Smart machines that can talk to one another to ensure products are finished and delivered on time and on schedule around then world; linked to sensors and employees that will produce hundreds of data-points a second, optimizing manufacturing efficiency and product quality.

For Santa this will probably mean hiring fewer elves, which could drive up the unemployment rate at the North Pole, but paying those that he does hire – who will mostly come equipped with advanced degrees – will receive higher pay and better benefits.

Santa’s sleigh

Reindeer are great. So are horses, oxen, and asses, but we don’t ride around in horse drawn carriages anymore do we? So why should Santa.

Santa has a lot of miles to cover and can’t be worried about feeding, controlling, and steering his Reindeer. Further, the guy is driving around all night and he could easily fall asleep at the wheel.

Santa needs to call in Elon Musk on this one.

Earlier this year Musk announced that the Tesla Model F would ship in 2019 (although I’m sure Santa could get a special pre-release). The Model F is billed as Tesla’s first flying car and would enable Santa to take off and land vertically before flying through the air. This would give Santa easy access to rooftops and not require him to pick up reign deer poop.

The headlights are also bound to work much better than Rudolph’s nose. In addition, Tesla is only a few years from releasing its first fully autonomous vehicle and given that most flight craft are already largely autonomous due to heavy reliance on autopilot it is a natural extension that the Model F would be too. This would allow Santa to catch a much needed nap in the long night and also focus on preparing gifts for each stop to make the journey as efficient as possible.

Unfortunately, the Model F only is expected to travel at 300 mph – not nearly fast enough to circumnavigate the globe. Fortunately, Musk is also the CEO of Space-X and the space shuttle Falcon 9 engines can hit Mach 5 (or 3836.35 mph) ensuring that his Model F sleigh is fast enough to get him around the world and back again.

With a little Christmas magic maybe the notoriously finicky jet engines won’t even explode!

And finally the old geezer himself

We all need to come to terms with our own limitations.

I understand that as a journalist bound to be replaced by a Cylon any day, and that the best I can hope for is the rise of Universal Base Income to keep food on my table once robots have replaced me in the labor force.

It’s about time that Santa, for his good and ours, accepts his own limitations.

It’s just hard facts that an aging and more-than-slightly overweight man cannot be expected to make it around the world in a night or fit down most chimneys. Santa will soon (not quite yet) need to fully embrace the advent of AI and purchase a robot to do his nightly rounds.

Current artificial intelligence is perfectly capable of most of Santa’s nightly tasks which largely consists of analyzing a long list of names and addresses and selecting certain gifts from inventory based on a few key variables (age, requested item, level of naughtiness) – an easy algorithm handled much better by a machine than man.

Given that steering and navigating will be handled by an autonomous sleigh the only task that might be outside the grasp of machines would be the actual hand delivery of gifts, coal, and the consumption of cookies and milk. Most machines still struggle with basic mobility, agility, and dexterity which would make it challenge for robot Santa to climb down a chimney and quietly navigate a home.

However, this is changing quickly. Boston Dynamics is one example of a firm making rapid advances in robotic mobility. Nonetheless, the technology is not quite there yet and for the moment Santa’s job is safe, but not for long….

We can only hope that future robot Santa will be a force for good and not evil.

Read next: Autonomous cars: A beginners’ guide for 2017 and beyond

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