Robot. An automatized machine run by a computer. Also, an idea that quite often polarises people and starts discussions. Some believe robots are a crucial part of a developing society as they reduce difficult human labour. Others argue that robotics just brings about more problems than it solves, and opens a whole new array of ethical issues we need to tackle. So, are we justifiably investing in robotic advancement, or just funding our own doom?
The history of our civilisation’s development is usually traced out by two very important events, which we usually refer to as the Industrial Revolutions. Both radically changed our society and the experience of human life itself, but they have another feature in common – changes in technology. Those changes are often called ‘advancements’ as they improved productivity in factories and reduced unnecessary human labour that was often quite demanding and unsafe. The invention of machines that do the work instead of us was a big step forward, and we just kept improving them since. This is when the term ‘robot’ is introduced: a modern way of addressing smart machines whose purpose is to help us humans with mundane jobs and give us the time to focus on more important things. Of course, robots have developed greatly since they were first used, but their main purpose remained the same – to ease issues of human labour and provide safer work environments.
Automatization of work is surely something beneficial for all – it improves productivity, produces more wealth with less labour, and saves workers from doing demanding jobs. However, a sudden introduction of robots into a factory, for example, means that a lot of jobs will be destroyed, leaving those workers without a regular income. This problem is something that the society had to deal with many times before, and is not unsolvable. It can simply be overcome by employing a gradual conversion to automatization, as opposed to doing it overnight, which is something to be expected in today’s capital-focused world. Once this point is passed, we can start truly discussing the merits of an automatized production. There is a possibility to diminish the workload by making the work more efficient, leaving the workers with less stressful working environments and more free time. There are also reports that say that robot-enhanced work spaces tend to save money, compared to traditional production methods. This certainly sounds great, but it creates a new issue of distributing the money saved in the process.
Capitalism, as many are aware, can oftentimes be quite unethical. However, try adding full automatization in the mix and you get the perfect way of enlarging the wealth of the rich without exploitation of the workers. In this scenario, the robots are the ones doing all the work, without a possibility of a strike or protest. They are, in a sense, the perfect workers form a capitalist’s point of view, and human labour becomes redundant, easy to cast aside. Thus, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, as the famous catchphrase goes, all on the grounds of evolving technology – something normally considered an advancement. This socio-economic stage surpasses capitalism in a way, as it annihilates the need for human work force completely and seems to lead to the elimination of the working class. This chilly dystopian view of our future may seem like science fiction at first, but recent advancements in robotics and AI software should make us think twice.
AI, however, doesn’t just build on all the issues previously mentioned, they create loads of new ones – most often concerning ethics. The advancements in the field tell us that we must start thinking about those issues now, as all those futuristic novels about evil robots don’t seem that far away anymore. There are already examples of self-driving cars for example, and even reports of computer programmes passing the famous Turing Test. These are all indications that, in addition to solely developing the technology, we should also be thinking about the implementation of some core moral values into the robots and AI in general. There is a lot of literature based on this idea, most notably Isaac Asimov’s I Robot in which he states his ‘three laws of robotics’ which govern the robots’ interactions with humans in his book. We are slowly, but steadily, approaching that reality and it can never hurt to think in advance.
All things considered, I think automatization and robots are ultimately a smart way of developing our society, and we should not restrict it. However, robots that take people’s jobs and save money in the process are good so long as the wealth they produce is equally distributed within the society. If we ensure financial equality in the previously described post-capitalistic world, and if we teach our future fellow AI robots how to act morally, I believe we can coexist and build a better, more advanced civilisation.