The robot revolution already happened, and we lost

Are the robots coming to take over the world from the incompetent, soft hands of mankind? Don’t look now, but it probably already happened and they won the war without firing a shot.


I don’t generally find much ground to argue with Victor Davis Hanson on, but I think he might have been a bit off base this week when he wrote this.

The downside of this complete reliance on computer gadgetry is a fundamental ignorance of what technology is. Smart machines are simply the pumps that deliver the water of knowledge — not knowledge itself.

Of course, Hanson is to be forgiven, as making predictions about technology in general – and robots in particular – can be tricky. It’s even one of the subjects where Isaac Asimov got it wrong fifty years ago.

“Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”

Where is all of this robot chatter going? It’s the question being examined by Michael Belfiore in the Guardian this week, as he informs us that robots are coming for your jobs, and they’ll’ probably have about half of them in short order.

Will you be replaced by a machine? There’s nearly a 50-50 chance, according to a recent study by Oxford University researchers who found that 47% of the labor market in the US alone is at risk of being mechanized out of existence. Approximately 702 jobs thus far held by humans are now threatened by non-humans, as we were reminded by a widely shared report on the study this week.

It’s not hard to see why. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are bringing robots into more and more workplaces

There’s even a robotic burger flipper in the works. The website of Momentum Machines boasts that its slicing, grinding, frying robot can do “everything employees can do except better”, and that it will “democratize access to high-quality food, making it available to the masses”.


There’s a pretty staggering list of employment areas which may be largely on the way out, given the list of robotic innovations which are already either in production or at least on the drawing board. The author brings up The Baxter Robot which can take over mid-level management and supervisory duties, learning new tasks on the fly, as well as robot surgeons. But at least the bloggers are safe, so the Hot Air staff won’t have to worry. Or will they?

The Quill robotic journalist digests facts from raw data, and spits out fully formed sports and business stories.

I used to laugh off these stories myself… that is, until I was attacked by this robot during a recent tax policy conference in DC.


Okay… to be fair, “attacked” was probably a tad hyperbolic. The robot actually just bumped into my leg a couple of times while it was trying to navigate its way into the conference center. But it was still unsettling to say the least.

One final thought on this subject relates, yet again, to the minimum wage debate going on today. I take it you noticed the part about the “burger flipping robot” above. The one thing stopping every food joint in the country from automating these tasks is that you can still – at least for now – find somebody to do this work for less than it would cost to try to bring in C3PO and get an apron around its waist. But once you drive up the cost of labor far enough, the steel counter server is going to look a lot more viable. Once in place, the robot will never steal from the register, call in sick, develop an out of control drug problem or take baths in your sink. And once those jobs are gone, they won’t be coming back.


Now if we can find a robot to scare the Jehovah’s Witnesses off my porch at a reasonable cost, the future will be golden indeed.

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