This time will be no different. Steam engines destroyed jobs—OK, mostly for horse handlers—but enabled an explosion of manufactories, never imagined jobs and the Industrial Revolution. Cars killed trolleys but enabled hundreds of millions of new jobs. Vacuums and washing machines destroyed jobs for “domestic engineers” (though I will never admit to knowing how to operate either) but freed women to enter the much more productive paid workforce. Computers killed jobs for those with rulers and exacto knives who were laying out magazines or constructing physical spreadsheets. Now media and Wall Street don’t exist without Microsoft Office. In each case, technology augments humans, rather than replaces them.
Even Chinese workers shouldn’t fear robots. The coming global demand for manufactured goods will swamp a robot-deprived manufacturing economy. Robots will solve China’s looming logistic problems.
Simply put, jobs that robots can replace are not good jobs in the first place. As humans, we climb up the rungs of drudgery—physically tasking or mind-numbing jobs—to jobs that use what got us to the top of the food chain, our brains.