Will robots eat the entire middle class?
Rethink Robotics/Promo image
Jim Kunstler has written that without a construction industry, " all you have left is brain surgeons and KFC workers." If Christopher Mims is right about the future of robotics, we may not even have that. He describes partying with Baxter, an affordable and easy to use robot.
Drink in hand, I walked over and, with only the vaguest sense of how to get it to respond to my touch, grabbed it by the wrist. I guided its “hand” over to a box full of small objects. Its caliper-like fingers closed on a widget. Then I moved its hand, which offered almost no resistance at all, to another position on the table. It dropped the object. After that, it dutifully repeated the procedure I had taught it, again and again, emptying the box.... In less time than it takes to update my calendar, I had, in essence, trained Baxter to pack a box for shipping, or to transfer goods from one conveyor belt to another—two tasks that are common in manufacturing and distribution centers.
Mims notes that Baxter and other robots like it will likely take over manufacturing, the way computers eliminated the steno pool. The robots may bring manufacturing back to America, but not the jobs. He quotes Erik Brynjolfsson, director of MIT’s Center for Digital Business:
“As an economist, it’s not a bad thing when we get more stuff for less work,” says Brynjolfsson. “That’s what the system is designed to do. The issue is, can we reinvent and redesign our economic institutions to keep pace with this change so not all of the benefits accrue to a very small slice of people?”