I’ve run across two robot stories recently, one in person and one in the news, that are making me feel a little sorry for our computerized friends.
First was my experience in a local supermarket over the weekend. They have a new robot that beeps and travels around looking for spills. As I stood there taking a video, a fellow shopper walked up to me shaking his head and said, “there go a bunch more jobs.” He may be right about the robot taking a low-level job of spill spotting, but he’s wrong about what he meant; which was that robots will eventually take all our jobs.
I’ve researched this a couple of times and have found that each wave of automation, starting with the steam engine and cotton gin, have produced waves of increased workplace prosperity that require many more employees with higher skill sets and associated earnings. That poor supermarket robot is getting a bum rap.
The next story is about the news of a death caused by a self-driving (i.e., robotic) car made by Uber. The supposedly good news for Uber is that the county attorney’s office has decided not to press criminal charges. Criminal charges? Two issues with this: First, doesn’t there have to be criminal intent for criminal charges to be charged? How does a robot have intent? Second, self-driving cars will be much safer than the ones we all drive, IMO. I’ve seen two car accidents take place right in front of me in the past few years. One was caused by a driver who fell asleep and crossed the median, striking an oncoming car. The other was a driver, probably texting, that rear-ended the car in front of her at about 50 mph. Both could have been prevented by robotic cars. How many drivers do you see every day texting, applying makeup, etc.? Robots don’t do that stuff. We should be giving them awards, not threatening criminal charges.
These problems, and many more, will be solved by computers and robots assisting us in living better lives, just as the washing machine, internal combustion engine, cable TV and iPhone have. Why are we so against them when they first make the scene? I guess we humans fear what we don’t understand. I mean, who among the Wright Brothers’ contemporaries would have wanted to get into an aluminum tube with wings flying at 650 mph through the sky? Probably no one, and yet most people don’t hesitate to get on a plane today. I think this is what will also happen to these new technologies, and that we’re just going through the normal “first phase” of fear of the unknown.
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