The rise of robotics – another stage in the descent of humanity?

As humans, many of us like to consider ourselves as superior to other forms of natural life – with out brain power it has enabled us to develop and progress as a life form, which can be contrasted with other natural life forms.

Whilst we may point to our continuing ability to make important discoveries and developments that can be considered as beneficial to us as a life form, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions abut where we are at and where we are heading as a life form.

This week the World Health Organisation published a report into global suicide. It estimated that over 800,000 suicides occurred globally in 2012, although the number could be far higher as some countries do not collect data for suicides. So 800,000 deaths represent one every 40 seconds at least. Obviously there are wide ranging reasons why someone would take their own life. Whilst the human brain may be the key to unlocking huge discoveries, it also can lead us to the path of self destruction. For some, hope is lost; they see no future, only continuing unpalatable misery. We see this where there is economic decline, inequality, and a system that punishes those who wish to speak out about unfair practices.

Whistleblowing has become a pervasive topic; but whilst it may be claimed that some governments actually seek to encourage whistleblowers to speak out to help correct injustices in our society, there is a bitter log of whistleblowers being abysmally treated, and in some cases driven to depression and beyond. A system which can lead to the destruction of the courageous, is flawed and morally corrupt. But that is what we have. If we speak out we risk our jobs and livelihood. We become tainted and alternative potential employers are then few and far between.

So where do robotics come into all of this? Chris Dillow in a commentary piece in the Investors Chronicle his week identifies some chilling issues for us as our societies begin to embrace more deeply the world of robotics. Fear of the machine is not new of course, as we can point for example to the Luddites who feared the rise of the machine would take their livelihoods away. Dillow in his article highlights that new technology does not only potentially put jobs under threat, it also competes with existing older capital, and therefore older equipment becomes obsolete. Thus those companies whose businesses are based around such older capital, must change or disappear. But if robots and robotics become widely available and their cost diminishes, competition will drive down profits that can be made, thus leading to n inevitable squeeze on investment. Additionally, if robots do make redundant vast swathes of people, then it is questioned who will buy what is produced in the first place? Furthermore, the whole scenario would lead to workers even more fiercely competing with each other for those jobs that do exist, thus pushing down wage rates, leading inexorably to less money being available to purchase goods and services.

Robotics is now a subject of keen interest for governments, including the UK government, who are looking to compete in this field more effectively. But we must face the question of whether our human ‘genius’ is squeezing the life out of us.

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