An idea worthy of a pundit down on her ratings or perhaps of a professor at some university. It turns up from time to time now as if we lacked enough to worry about with our politicians. Some unfortunates have to write something every day to keep their paychecks coming; the search for topics must become pretty desperate sometimes.
First, what is a robot? The term is misused now to address almost any machine that replaces human labor. With that, the textile machines that so infuriated the Luddites must have been robots, right? How about the power saw and nail gun that have all but eliminated carpenters? Certainly labor saving machines will continue to replace us as they always have done. Such machines are more efficient than human labor, directing it instead toward work for which it is more productive. That has vastly improved our lives.
The chicken littles of robotics raise two fears: One, that there will remain too few jobs for the numbers of humans needing paychecks and two, that machines will not only begin to think but they will do so more efficiently than humans, ultimately replacing us there as well. The ultimate in labor saving devices may then, seeing us as unproductive consumers, dispose of us. Sure.
There are no thinking machines, only machines that execute programmed instructions provided by people. Today, anyway. Nor have we come up with machines that can mimic our mobility, independence or fuel economy. So for the moment we might wish to consider automating too many of our remunerated tasks but we can defer consideration of our replacement by machine equivalents. And though it is an annoying thought, perhaps we should consider the fact: Expensive machines often replace human labor only after its price has been driven above its market value by political meddling. (Economics is called “the dismal science” for a reason.)
Carpenters are many fewer than they once were; fry cooks will diminish as burger making machines proliferate. On the other hand, when carpenters were many, computer geeks were non-existent. New tech creates new needs as it fills old ones. And the more human labor abandons tasks machines can accomplish and proceeds toward tasks only humans can manage, the more we progress. Is it a shame that our society has totally eliminated the work of hunter-gatherers?
The real rub comes as it always has done, with the reality that human affairs always include winners and losers and at least while we inhabit this universe, always will. That is the nature of our physical reality. It is also the tool politicians use tosell their illusions to the losers and those fearful of losing. That is how the Soviet Union and Venezuela arrived where they now are. And the sirens sing that song and will sing it so long as an audience exists. Unless somehow we can turn things over to machines that have been programmed not to listen …