“The robots are coming! Word is they want your job, your life and probably your little dog, too.” This is how a piece by Catherine Rampell begins in yesterday’s New York Times. This is hardly a new worry, as the piece continues to discuss:
“Robots have once again gripped the nation’s imagination, stoking fears of displaced jobs and perhaps even a displaced human race. An alarmist segment on “60 Minutes’ was only the most vivid of a recent series of pieces in respected magazines and newsoutlets warning about widespread worker displacement.Professors at Cambridge University and a co-founder of Skype
are creating a newCenter for the Study of Existential Risk, which would research a ‘Terminator’-like scenario in which supercomputers rise up and destroy their human overlords, presumably plotting the whole caper in zeros and ones.
“In New York alone, there are four plays running this month with themes of cybernetics run amok. One is a revival of ‘R.U.R.,’ a 1920 Czech play that was the granddaddy of the cybernetic revolt genre and that originated the current meaning of the word “robot.”
“Such android anxiety has a long history. John Maynard Keynes wrote about ‘technological unemployment’ during the Great Depression. In the Industrial Revolution, disgruntled laborers — including the original Luddites — smashed automated looms and threshing machines that “stole” their jobs. In the 15th century, scribes protested the printing press, with a futile zeal rivaled perhaps only by that of modern journalists.
“Even Aristotle foretold that automation would expunge the need for labor, observing that if ‘the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.’