In his article, “Labor Day 2040: What Happens When Robots Do All the Work?” Clive Irving offers a futuristic analytical opinion piece on the role of robots in the future. His main example is set in the cockpit of a plane, where pilots are being replaced by computers and algorithms that apparently don’t make mistakes. He even champions Uber for their future “Lifter service in Dallas and Los Angeles in 2020 [where] the FAA insisted that the four-seats should include one occupied by a pilot” but was surprised to find that it was unnecessary as the computer flew the plane effortlessly. He then artfully includes Amazon’s future “delivery drones” flying among the Uber Lifter services in perfect harmony.
While these examples are rich with a future that provides surety in the form of highly intelligent learning robots, something else stood out is Irving’s article. His plea for humans to refer to robots as “Superior Intelligence” as opposed to Artificial Intelligence and to give “the robots the kind of self-respect and dignity that we demand in our new infinite leisure,” was the highlight for me. These statements by Irving make me wonder if this is what work is centered around? Biblically it is written that work satisfies the soul. Proverbs 13:4 states, “The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (NKJV) I believe this is the purpose of work. I remember when I got my first tax paying job as a cashier at McDonalds in high school. I worked summer youth before then, but this was different. I applied and got hired on the spot – what an accomplishment for a high-schooler in my view. I wasn’t making a lot, but I felt a sense of pride and worth, up until I felt taken advantaged of. Then I made another accomplishment, I successfully quit my first tax paying job. McDonald’s set me on the right path – striving to find employment that provide me with self-respect and dignity.
Some find pride and worth in salary and others in job requirements. I believe that this feeling is what Irving is trying to have humans afford to robots, but I don’t believe this is possible. Why? (Let’s not forget that it’s the future we are talking about here, and none of us hold a shiny ball, meaning there will be more questions than answers.) Is what Irving mentions the one area that computers and robots can’t compete with humans? A feeling of purpose? At the end of the day, robots don’t have to work to provide for themselves or a family or work to feel prideful. This is, to me, the reason for working and unfortunately, as Bob Marley states, “in this great future, you can’t forget your past,” so we can’t forget the reasons we all choose to get up and go to, or find, work. These reasons, I doubt a robot can list as their own. Of course, the question remains, can we teach a robot to feel something for, and from, the work they do? If so, then we have a game changer.