Image courtesey of Skeeze and Dr. SJS.
Please remind me to never again read a magazine article about self-driving cars before going to the ballet.
The ballet, of course, was quite beautiful, but I had a hard time relaxing and enjoying it because I read that damned article, which said self-driving cars are coming soon. They’re right around the corner in fact. It’s a wicked Pandora’s Box because you know what happens next. The article said all kinds of people who drive for a living will be out of work. And where does it all end, I wondered? What about when you call an ambulance in the era of self-driving cars? Will a self-driving ambulance come?
And will drivers be the only ones who get screwed out of a job? Are any fields of work immune from being taken over by robots? People have been talking about robots taking over the workforce since way back when I was a kid. But back then, the closest most people came to encountering a humanoid robot was those Chatty Cathy dolls where you pulled a string hanging out of the back of her neck and a muffled recording of a little girl’s voice emanated from a tinny speaker deep within her ribcage. She didn’t seem to pose a threat to anybody’s livelihood.
But now self-driving cars are right around the corner. And drones are already here.
I sometimes pass by a fancy-pants private school in the afternoon and see a long line of idling cars driven by hired help coming to pick up their charges. Well, someday soon that will instead be a swarm of hovering drones waiting outside. I guess when the assigned child emerges, a drone will simply lower a hook, snag the child by the collar, and whisk her off to soccer practice—or ballet. It will be commonplace to see flocks of low-flying schoolchildren escorted home by drones to waiting robot nannies.
And once there are robot nannies, who knows what’s next. Maybe when the self-driving ambulance arrives, robot paramedics will jump out. After reading that damned article, it’s not hard for me to imagine that robots could be programmed to patch gaping head wounds or perform CPR.
And once there are robot paramedics, can robot ballet dancers be far behind? Surely someday soon there will be robots that can be programmed to dance the Nutcracker.
So, it was really hard for me to enjoy the ballet. I kept picturing the elegant prima ballerina slumped and forlorn in the unemployment line or passed out homeless on the street, her tutu torn and disheveled. It’s inevitable. The diabolical goal of this radical restructuring of society is to create a utopian business climate where labor costs are zero.
I cling to the slim hope that some human labor will always be necessary. Somebody will have to program the prima ballerina to dance. But choreography will be taught at schools like MIT. Humans will still be needed to build and repair the prima ballerina robots, unless other robots are built for the purpose of building and repairing prima ballerina robots. But even then, humans will still be needed to build and repair the robots that are built for the purpose of building and repairing prima ballerina robots, unless other robots are built for the purpose of building and repairing those robots. But even then, humans will still be needed to build and repair those robots. Right?
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He blogs at Smart Ass Cripple, "expressing pain through sarcasm since 2010."