Are robots stealing our jobs?

There is a set of rules all robots must obey to ensure safe coexistence with humans.

Electronics industryElectronics industry (Source: ABB)

Martin Spano is the author of Artificial Intelligence in a Nutshell, a book that explores the mystified subject of artificial intelligence (AI) with simple, non-technical language. Spano’s passion for AI began after he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he insists this ever-changing technology is not just the subject for sci-fi novels and movies; artificial intelligence is present in our everyday lives.

The Story of Mr. Rossum

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Mr. Rossum was a genial yet slightly wicked scientist. He traveled the world and studied marine biology. During his research on the subject, he discovered a substance similar to protoplasm, an elemental component of living organisms. Together with his nephew, they found out how to create living beings using this substance. Entrepreneurs later formed a company called Rossum's Universal Robots from their scientific heritage. It produces artificial humans called "robots" in large quantities. They become widespread in the world and do all the hard labour previously done by humans. However, robots revolt and kill humans.

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The plot described above, from the play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Czech writer Karel Capek, is the first to use the word "robot." Before Capek used this term in R.U.R., the term automata was heavily used in literature to describe automatic non-human entities operating on their own. However, it was Karel’s brother Josef who came up with the word. Isaac Asimov later reused the word for his robot series. He also used it to name a new branch of engineering - robotics. In addition, he defined the famous three laws of robotics, a set of rules which all robots must obey for the safe coexistence of human and robots. Due to their use in literature, most people think of robots as artificially created humanoid beings. The reason for its humanoid appearance is the thinking that for the robot to correctly function in the human environment it is necessary to have a human-like form.

Human vs. robot

The contemplation goes like this. If you do not want to drive your car yourself or have a chauffeur, you need a robot that sits on a driver's seat. Therefore the robot needs to have a humanoid appearance, with hands and legs to operate the car. Well, there is one other possibility when a vehicle is a robot itself.

Whereas robots in R.U.R. were biological, similar to the concepts of replicants or androids, nowadays the word is used for a programmable machine that operates automatically. Robots are just a shelve, an encapsulation for artificial intelligence. They gradually replace humans at work, especially with repetitive and dangerous tasks. They can operate in environments a human would biologically not be able to withstand. Their usage in the industry leads to high productivity and corresponding lower cost of products. On the other hand, it raises the concerns of mass technological unemployment. This could happen if the rate at which robots remove humans from the labour market is higher than the speed at which new jobs are created.

The Slovak Spectator will publish more extracts from Spano’s book in the coming weeks.

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