Stupid responses to wicked problems, part [x]

Seems lots of people can see the potential long-term problems with the plans of Foxconn (and doubtless many others) to replace human manufacturing labour with robots. Sadly, that doesn’t preclude them coming up with the most myopic and reactionary response possible:

Despite my love of robots since childhood – as the high point of technology and for the technological challenges they present – we must remain vigilant about how they are helping us. If it turns out they are making our lives worse, I will be first in the luddite line with my sledgehammer.

Yes, Noel, yes! Because it’s the robots that are deciding the course of macroeconomics, isn’t it? Sneaky robots! Thank heavens for your vigilant sledgehammer; I shall sleep easier at night knowing you’re watching for that critical moment when a systemic drift manifests as an observable (if ill-defined) impact on our privileged Western lifestyles, ready and willing to destroy the tools of potential oppression, yet leaving the hands that would wield them unharmed!

Idiot. We cannot detach ourselves from our technologies; we are a cyborg species and always have been. Hairshirt back-to-basics primitivism is as unachievable and naive as Singularitarianism. Robots are tools, just like looms; why destroy a morally neutral tool when you could instead work on the systemic problems which make that tool into a vector of oppression?

Fight the fist, not the gauntlet.

5 thoughts on “Stupid responses to wicked problems, part [x]”

  1. The trick, as always, is to find things that robots and improved automation cannot do, and then retrain yourself for them.

  2. And we all know that sledgehammers will not be good enough. Robots laugh at your bludgeon weapons, creature of flesh and bone! The only way to fight robots is with other robots: EVERYONE knows this.

  3. Given Noel Sharkey’s career, I’m assuming he feels he knows where that tipping point may be. Not that luddite sledgehammer action has a stellar history of effectiveness against the machines’ advance, but he may decide to have a go. Part of me is enjoying the mental picture of the old man swinging a hammer at some giant battle-mecha, which then proceeds to crush his skull with its forefingers like a pistachio shell.

    *btw, anyone who’s seen ‘Robocop 2’ knows a robot will still try to commit suicide if you make it suffer enough.

  4. Of course I agree with you entirely Paul. Robots are just tools/dumb machines and it all depends on who is in control of them and for what reason. You will find that theme running through many of my writing on the ethical application of robotics. The Luddite line with the sledgehammer was meant to be a “rage against the machine” metaphor. But I will take the hit for not making that clear enough in the article.

    I am not so keen on having my skull crushed though.
    noel sharkey

  5. My apologies for the misinterpretation, Noel; my ire has been running high as regards technological Rejectionism in the media of late, and your piece came across my bows when I was in a less than pleasant mood.

    Still, that’s no real excuse for making my response so personal, so sorry for the tone, and thanks for taking the time to respond directly. 🙂

    (Stick around later today to watch me losing my rag at that stupid OFCOM smartphone “addiction” report; it’s hair-trigger season for antitechnophobes right now…)

Comments are closed.