Hello Robots, Goodbye Civil Society

The TerminatorRobots can operate 24/7/365. They don’t complain about the work environment, don’t ask for raises, and don’t get paid extra for overtime. They don’t form unions, ask for promotions, require health insurance, or play office politics. They’re never late for work or inappropriately dressed, and they’re patently incapable of theft, sexual harassment, or discrimination. And they’re getting smarter, faster, and (here’s the important part) able to do very complicated things only humans could do before. It’s my prediction that, much sooner than most people realize, there will be a robot designed to do virtually any job that currently requires a high school education. And they’ll be cheap enough that leasing enough of them to replace hourly workers will be a no-brainer for business owners.

Consider for example this recent article in the WSJ about the use of robots in hospitals. They are already replacing the janitorial and housekeeping staff because they cost half as much. I’ve been reading in IEEE’s blogs about robots that can build structures (even from the air), stock warehouses,  and drive cars, and they’re working on farming robots that can identify and pick ripe fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see where this is going.

If it turns out that some jobs are just too difficult for a robot, telepresence robots will allow low-wage workers in other parts of the world to do manual labor in the U.S. from wherever they are. Will there be opportunities in robot maintenance? I’ll predict that there will even be robots that can diagnose and repair other robots in the not-to-distant future.

When you put this phenomenon together with the incredible imprisonment rate in the US, there’s going to be an awful lot of poorly-educated young people with criminal backgrounds who have nothing better to do than sit around and get pissed that they have no future. Put that together with the massive quantity of firearms in this country and the relative ease with which they can be obtained, and the only reasonable conclusion is that we’re sitting on a powder keg. We need to start thinking now about what we’re going to do about it.

UPDATE: Robots can now debone chickens, according to the Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE: Robots can now construct homes and buildings, according to Geek.com.

UPDATE: Robots are taking over manufacturing jobs in China, according to R&D Magazine.

3 thoughts on “Hello Robots, Goodbye Civil Society

  1. Joe says:

    Seems like there is an interesting opportunity to combine the high level of imprisonment with some of those telepresence robots. Perhaps it could be part of work training program. Who knows…

  2. Oh Bill, I’m thrown back to the way my stomach hurt watching Spielburg’s AI. The picture you paint of the future with robots is deeply troubling, as much because I recognize the speed with which it approaches as that I can’t imagine how we will deal with this. We are already so close…

    Your closing paragraph raises an interesting point about the possible use of the telepresence robots. My head is spinning. Time to go offline to the antiquated world of books with paper pages.

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