Leaping out of the “Lessons We Didn’t Learn From Age of Ultron” file is this piece from TechRepublic on the fun new robotic horizons researchers at MIT and UC Berkeley are opening up. Horizons that include new algorithms which simulate learning and make unique, non-repetitive tasks a possibility. Where would such technology find application? The workplace, of course! And academics tend to focus on accomplishment rather than implication, so you can be sure these researchers haven’t examined potential consequences very thoroughly.
The researchers created software that allowed three mobile robotic arms to assemble a chair from four parts strewn around an arena.
In the past, it would have taken hours for a robotic system to work out how to piece together the parts, due to the complexity of working in an unfamiliar setting and coordinating the actions of multiple bots.
The MIT team devised an algorithm that significantly reduces the planning time, to the point where the bots were able to work together to build the chair in about six-and-a-half minutes.
“We’re really excited about the idea of using robots in more extensive ways in manufacturing,” said Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, whose group developed the new algorithm. “For this, we need robots that can figure things out for themselves more than current robots do. We see this algorithm as a step in that direction.”
Next stop: SkyNet. Okay, probably not, but one has to wonder- why do we need such technology as this? The Marxist sympathetic part of me laments the solidifying of bourgeois power a mostly robotic workforce would effect- have any of these researchers considered that? I guarantee you, no. But as big as that is, there’s more. When I see references to “boring jobs” attached to news about robotics breakthroughs like these, I get worried. Are we really so curved in on ourselves that we despise the small tasks and responsibilities that make up a significant percentage of every day? That cumulatively add up to a profession? Obviously we do- try keeping count of how many times you hear the word “mundane” next time you talk to someone about their job. We feed on glitz and glamour and detest in our being everything that slips through their sieve. (Which is most things, by the way.) Our theologies of glory make life unliveable by erecting impossible, godsized standards. Ironic, given that faithfully, joyfully executing all these contemptible small things is how we image the Maker, who delights in small, “contemptible” stuff like fair scales and matrimony and livestock and fences on your roof.
AIong the same inward curve, Ethan at Mockingbird just posted a reflection on Nicholas Carr’s latest book The Glass Cage which is more than absolutely relevant to this matter. He concludes with this excerpt from Carr:
More often than not, our discipline flags and our mind wanders when we’re not on the job. We may yearn for the workday to be over we can start spending our pay and having some fun, but most of us fritter away our leisure hours. We shun hard work and only rarely engage in challenging hobbies. Instead, we watch TV or go to the mall or log on to Facebook. We get lazy. And then we get bored and fretful. Disengaged from any outward focus, our attention turns inward, and we end up locked in what Emerson called the jail of self-consciousness. Jobs even crummy ones, are “actually easier to enjoy than free time,” says Csikszentmihalyi, because they have the “built-in” goals and challenges that “encourage on to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it.” But that’s not what our deceiving minds want us to believe. Given the opportunity, we’ll eagerly relieve ourselves of the rigors of labor. We’ll sentence ourselves to idleness…Is it any wonder we’re enamored of automation?
Make no mistake- the problem is rooted in us, in the ruin of our race through sin. The tech makes that ruin more visible, more tangible, more pervasive, but isn’t its origin. Spiritual ennui eventually reaches its saturation point and yields control completely. And that yielding can never and will never give life, only its opposite.