Dirty work but someone hasn’t got to do it anymore

Today’s UK papers trumpet articles on robots made in Japan to do the ‘D-work’ — dirty, dangerous and difficult. The tone is upbeat with a slight sense of amusement reserved for futuristic ideas. Yet these developments may not be so ridiculous, and may be the thin edge of a difficult wedge.

The driver for this change is the demographic shift in Japan, as in many developed countries, reducing children and population. Couple this to a continuing aversion to D-work in developed countries, and D-work robots offer a techno-utopian solution long sought and heralded by futurists. What will make the difference is the mass production of reliable machines and this may be near. Many will be nagged by their children for the latest intelligent mutant offspring of Robosapiens this Christmas, but the D-work robots are much smarter. They are designed for real jobs such as cleaning toilets, operating lifts, and serving food. Once the price of the D-work robots can compete with low-skill labour at the price of the minimum wage, then mass production could see their rapid adoption and ubiquitous use. Just as gadgets freed people from the shackles of housework, so robots would free humanity to fulfil its higher destinies. Akin to nineteenth century industrialisation, but at comparatively breathtaking speed, D-work robots would remove many low-skilled jobs and the need for overseas labour. It’s not just a matter of economics either. Robots seem to be surprisingly attractive to people as we have seen with ATM machines being preferred over human bank tellers. After all, they can be loved and don’t get offended if you are seen with another robot. Sounds too wonderful to be true, and it may be. The pace of change from technology is remarkable and this could be the one that truly transforms our society. What will we do? What will make us worthwhile? What use are we? As these machines get smarter we contribute less to society in the ways we have traditionally. The underclass that is already with us, particularly of young males unsuited to office jobs, will grow larger and more dangerous to society. The answer may end up be RoboCops. References http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2971269.ece

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