Meet Your New Coworker
Industrial robots are reshaping manufacturing
Of course, all this leads to the obvious question that workers have been ask- ing since the late 1700s: "Will machines steal all our jobs?" Back in 1779, Ned Lud started the antiautomation movement that later came to be known as Luddism by breaking into factories in Nottingham, England, and destroying the new weaving machines that were replacing workers. Marshall Brain, founder of the popular online encyclopedia HowStuffWorks.com, has written an influential online manifesto called "Robotic Nation" in which he concludes that the greater presence of robots in the workplace will lead to massive unemployment over the coming decades. "The jobless recovery is exactly what you would expect in a robotic nation," he writes.
Most economists dispute this scenario. As James Miller, economics professor at Smith College, explains it, the law of supply and demand says that firms will replace workers with robots only if the robots are cheaper to employ. But if robots displace enough workers, the laws of supply and demand will cause their wages to fall, meaning it will no longer be cheaper for the firms to replace them. "True, the existence of automation might depress workers' wages," Miller adds, "but it shouldn't ever leave them unemployable."
Still, just in case, it might be a good idea to add a fourth law to sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov's famous "three laws" of robotics (featured in his short story collection, I, Robot, the filmed version of which is coming to theaters later this year). Asimov's laws specify that robots must never hurt humans; robots must listen to humans; robots must protect themselves. Law No. 4: Robots should not steal human jobs--at least not all of them.