I've posted numerous articles about robots taking all our jobs, but this one points out something new: robots that can safely work alongside humans.

Consider Baxter, a revolutionary new workbot from Rethink Robotics. Designed by Rodney Brooks, the former MIT professor who invented the best-selling Roomba vacuum cleaner and its descendants, Baxter is an early example of a new class of industrial robots created to work alongside humans. Baxter does not look impressive. It's got big strong arms and a flatscreen display like many industrial bots. And Baxter's hands perform repetitive manual tasks, just as factory robots do. But it's different in three significant ways.

First, it can look around and indicate where it is looking by shifting the cartoon eyes on its head. It can perceive humans working near it and avoid injuring them. And workers can see whether it sees them. Previous industrial robots couldn't do this, which means that working robots have to be physically segregated from humans. The typical factory robot is imprisoned within a chain-link fence or caged in a glass case. They are simply too dangerous to be around, because they are oblivious to others. This isolation prevents such robots from working in a small shop, where isolation is not practical. Optimally, workers should be able to get materials to and from the robot or to tweak its controls by hand throughout the workday; isolation makes that difficult. Baxter, however, is aware. Using force-feedback technology to feel if it is colliding with a person or another bot, it is courteous. You can plug it into a wall socket in your garage and easily work right next to it.

Maybe socialism is the wave of the future if there just aren't enough low-capability jobs to keep humans busy. Maybe economic freedom will be meaningless when 95% of humans are unemployable due to advanced robotics.

However, I disagree with the "seven stages of robot replacement":

1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do. 2. OK, it can do a lot of them, but it can't do everything I do. 3. OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often. 4. OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks. 5. OK, it can have my old boring job, because it's obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do. 6. Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more fun and pays more! 7. I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now.

First, many people will get lost between steps two and five. Most people don't make their living creatively and won't be excited to find a new job based on symbiosis with ever-improving robotics.

Secondly, let's talk about step six. There's no reason to believe that the new job will "pay more", even if it results in a greater quality of life. I expect that robot-provided things and services will trend towards "free" and actual cash income (used to pay humans) will decline dramatically. Most workers will end up "poorer" but with a higher quality of life.

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