It’s not that I fear they will take over so many jobs that we will end up with a permanent class of unemployable unskilled workers. Some think so, but in this regard I’m feeling optimistic today (no doubt because of a good night’s sleep). I think that what will happen is that our entire educational system will be reorganized to accommodate new needs and opportunities that will arise from the brave new world that is now developing. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but there are already hints here and there that it is happening.
Here’s what concerns me about automation in general
It is distancing us from one another. There are fewer and fewer casual contacts that used to be necessary to carry on our daily business. Bank tellers, waitresses, order takers, receptionists, are disappearing right and left—drivers for hire to follow. In countless factories where workers used to take breaks and tell jokes, or exchange their troubled stories, the work is done primarily by robots who neither laugh nor cry. In Tokyo there is actually a hotel where guests never see another human being from check in to check out.
And speaking of Japan!
Here is where you’ll find the forerunners in the development of lifelike androids—robots that look like real people. As yet they are not “bipedal,”—they can’t walk around—but they’re working on it. The professed aim of these inventors is to create robots that are “self conscious and aware” in the words of Erica’s creator, professor Hiroshi Ishiguro.
What’s behind the Japanese push to excel at robotics.
There is a practical problem that the Japanese hope to solve with the introduction of robots. For over three decades, they have been experiencing negative population growth; the population is aging and the number of workers decreasing, making it increasingly difficult to fill job openings. They hope that robots can replace these lost workers.
For instance, it is impossible to find enough people willing to be attendants in nursing homes. I suppose if the robot that delivers medication and dinner looks like a person, it will be more acceptable as a caregiver. But what the elderly in nursing homes need most of all—what we all need— is a smile from a fellow human being, a compassionate touch, and love.
No matter how expertly the robot is crafted, no matter how convincingly it blinks or appears to breathe, or how well its warm body responds to our commands, it cannot love because it lacks the divine spark that makes a reciprocal exchange of love possible.
When we give our robot vacuum cleaner a name and assign it a gender, it’s a joke. We think it’s funny. But when a robotics inventor creates a lifelike robot with the intention of “changing the definition of a human,” in my book, it’s no joke; it is a sacrilege.