We use cookies for site personalization, analytics and advertising. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

The robots are coming!

Steve Parry
Robotization

I’ve been busy recently, weeks of long days and no weekends. As a freelancer I am, of course, obliged to say how glad I am of the work – though I must admit I do enjoy doing absolutely bugger all and, poverty aside, that’s what I’d do all the time. But to be idle, it seems, is to be indulging in the worst excesses of modern life: it is not viewed as useful, private, mental space, but as wasteful and feckless.

Sloth is capitalism’s least favourite vice. Fortunes are spent encouraging all the other deadly sins – lust, gluttony and envy are well represented on every billboard and TV channel. Yet sloth! ‘Don’t encourage that or the fuckers might actually take five minutes to think about the treadmill we’ve got them on.’

Modern technological advances, however, are making it look like millions of us will be left twiddling our thumbs – and whether that lack of work is liberating or devastating will depend on the battle to democratize technology.

Earlier this year the British government gave the go-ahead for the first trials of driverless trucks on UK motorways. Up to three lorries will be driven by a lead vehicle, with the final truck in the line bearing the slogan: ‘the future is ahead of you’. Not if you’re a truck driver it’s not.

And it’s not just the driving work that the robots are after. Worrying estimates suggest that half of all jobs in the US won’t exist in 20 to 30 years’ time. This would get talked about more if it weren’t for the fact that, with Donald Trump in the White House, people are more worried about whether the US itself will be around in 20 to 30 years – never mind if they’ve got a job.

It’s not just our work that’s being contracted out to the machines but our personal lives too. Sex robots are now an actual thing. Realistic dolls that have sophisticated movements that closely mimic human sexual behaviour – presumably by drinking too much, having a fight about whether to go back to your place or theirs, before stumbling through the front door, collapsing in the hall and banging each other like broken vending machines… Just me then?

Tech billionaires like Antonio Garcia-Martinez, a former Facebook product manager, are so scared of the future they’re already buying themselves remote survivalist bunkers in preparation for a total societal breakdown of their making.

Not all theories are so pessimistic about the future. Take the seductively named Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Supporters believe that technology provides us with an opportunity to create a positive post-work society. The luxury communists demand a 10- or 12-hour working week, a guaranteed social wage, universally-guaranteed housing, education and healthcare. What’s not to like?

If you ask me, and I’m aware you didn’t, it’s got to be worth a go before we wind up in a world where the rich are hunkered down in their fortified hideaways, filtering drinking water from their own urine, while the rest of us scrabble about, trying to keep a roof over the heads of ourselves and our shabby old sex dolls.

My worry is it’s only a matter of time before they come up with a robot that can knock out to order 600-word, mildly amusing rants about politics. Then I really will have time on my hands.

New Internationalist issue 506 magazine cover This article is from the October 2017 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Subscribe today »

Help us keep this site free for all

Editor Portrait New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.

Support us » payment methods

Subscribe   Ethical Shop