End of labor for humans and the bloodthirsty robot

March 24, 2017 | 08:00
End of labor for humans and the bloodthirsty robot
End of labor for humans and the bloodthirsty robot

It is nearly a century ago that robots made their debut. In 1920 they appeared for the first time in the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by the Czech writer Karel Čapek. He derived the word robot from the Czech word robota: the compulsory labor carried out by he serfs for the landowner during feudal times.

The story takes place at the factory grounds of Rossum’s Universal Robots, a company that produces artificial humans to serve as a very cheap labor force. It is the dream of R.U.R.'s CEO Harry Domin to use his robots to free humans from the "degrading and terrible labor" to which he had always been condemned to.

It was not to be.

Workers from all countries rise up in protest because they are losing their jobs. The ruling class arms the robots to suppress the rebellion. But the robots make no distinction between workers and company directors. They are completely committed to their task of wiping out humanity.

Now, nearly one hundred years later, Čapek's vision of an artificial labor force is becoming a reality. Researchers from Oxford University concluded that 47% of present-day jobs are it risk of being replaced by computers and robots. It is difficult to predict whether these jobs will be replaced by new job opportunities or whether the labor-free era for humanity is about to dawn.

In the latter case, the current method in which prosperity is divided can no longer continue. That is, at present workers share the fruits of the production process through wages and salary. When all workers en masse are replaced by technology, they will loose their share but will still need to eat.

The Oxford research has started a discussion about the increasing use of robots and employment opportunities. Not infrequently, alternative forms of sharing wealth are proposed. Examples are the introduction of a universal basic income or a tax on robots. These are not the pointless, theoretical, philosophical opinions of work-averse hippies or anti-capitalists. To ensure that the remainder of Čapek's thought experiment does not become a reality, we will have to think how society will be rearranged in light of the rise of the robot.

Image: Avariel Falcon, CC BY 2.0 license.

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About Tessel Renzenbrink

Tessel Renzenbrink is a freelance writer with a focus on the impact of technology on society. She is especially interested in information technology and the transition to a low carbon energy system. For Elektor she is the editor of the columns Elektor Ethics a... >>

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