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Robot Angst and Devaluing People
low wage workers
Another round of scary robots-are-coming-for-our-jobs stories. Expect more.
By Tom Green



“When technology extends one of our senses, a new translation of culture occurs as swiftly as the new technology is interiorized.”
                                                                                                    —Marshall McLuhan

Three more thought-provoking articles on robots and manufacturing are on the street and are making the dogs bark in warning.

As another installment in our year-long series, The Robots Among Us, we look at the rising tide of robot dread that’s terrorizing the future of jobs everywhere and our devaluing of the least among us who do the jobs most in jeopardy of going first.

The chart below reveals that long before the rise of the robots—at least since the end of the second world war—the proportion of people in the US who are working in manufacturing has declined steadily, from nearly 40% during the war to less than 10% today.

job_chart_mfg

 

Yes, Mr. McLuhan, we are at first blush trying to interiorize this the newest wave of robot mania to hit us, and, like ten little Indians, we’re having one helluva a time figuring out whose job will go first, who’s next after that and who will be the last human stragglers to succumb to robot job-grabbing. It may take a few generations more to fully interiorize all of this coming robotdom, so in the meantime we’re all taking turns being scared silly.

The kids know best

And yes, students generations from now will most certainly take school tours of factories and warehouses, and they’ll be truly shocked to learn that humans once worked in them. Better than the rest of us, however, these kids will have already interiorized the ways of the robots into their youthful psyches and have integrated with them into complementary shared living aboard the good ship planet Earth.

Youth conquers all. Just as computers and video games and Smartphones confound most older brains, not so those of kids, who easily subsume technology and then transform it into being a greater benefit to humankind than even its inventors ever imagined for it, So too will these newer machines—robots—be devoured and then incorporated into everyday living by the yet unborn, showing us finally that we never had anything to fear from robots except our ignorance of the new.

For humans, it’s just how we do things when it comes to accepting our own technology: the generation that creates the technology is never the generation that uses it best. It takes a good generational cleansing or two to really get things done.

McLuhan called it the turning of the sensorium as it maneuvers to comprehend and accept change.

The powers of Stan Lee’s X-Men come to life

Just maybe the first telltale sign in it all might well come from the kids themselves: instead of sporting tattoos, they may be adorning their bodies with on-skin or sub-dermal cyborg implants. Ugly? Maybe. On the bright side: it may put an end to things like the dangers of texting while driving: with implants they’ll just think the text, and next think— send. On the dark side? Well, that’s what this trio of articles will help to provide.

Enjoy.

Christopher Mims writing in Quartz
How robots are eating the last of America’s—and the world’s—traditional manufacturing jobs

Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times
Robots and Robber Barons

David Brancaccio writing in Marketplace Tech Report
Surviving the rise of the machines

As Marshall McLuhan famously put it: “If it works, it’s obsolete.”


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