Monday, September 26, 2011

That's Why They're Called "Robots"

Farhad Manjoo, over at Slate, has a couple of articles about automation in the workforce and how robots will take all our jobs.

Um, of course? That's what a robot does. The word "robot" comes from the Czech word "robota," meaning "forced labor." We got it from Karel Capek's 1921 prescient, disturbing play, "Rossum's Universal Robots," in which an artificially produced workforce takes over all human labor...until they get tired of this crummy deal, rebel against their human overlords, and destroy humanity.

To be fair, Manjoo is looking more at how robots will eventually begin to displace humans in professions that currently require a significant amount of education and training. Basically, if your job involves any kind of fairly repetitive labor and little need for face-to-face interaction, you should start to reconcile yourself to the likelihood that you will be replaced by a robot. Pharmacists, tax preparers, lawyers, judges (the latter two in only some cases), physicians, and sportswriters...all doomed. 

What interests me is the extent to which robots have already supplanted humans in all kinds of jobs, including agricultural labor, repair work, customer service, secretarial work, factory and assembly-line work, security, and warfare. I'm sure there are many more areas, but they are largely invisible to us. And, once robots start doing things like diagnosing cancer or handing down sentences for misdemeanors or minor felonies (which seems like where we're headed in some cases, given the lack of judicial discretion in sentencing for certain crimes), how will that affect our relationship with technology...with the robots?

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