Robots with Chinese Faces

robotsAre you freaked out by the robotics revolution? If so, you’re not alone. News stories projecting a near future in which as much as 50 percent of the workforce will be displaced by robots have a lot of folks conjuring visions of sci-fi dystopias.

To prepare for this future, Shunde, China has created a program appropriately named “replacing humans with robots.” Apparently, about half of factory workers in Shunde, a city of more than 2.4 million (among whom half are migrants who moved to the city for work), will soon be automated out of their jobs. Many will be forced to return to their home provinces where it is predicted that the robot revolution will catch up with them in about 10-20 years, throwing them out of work again. And China is just the canary in the mineshaft of the global economy where robots are concerned.

When computers can detect your heart rate, identify you via thumb print, and touch screens become a more effective means of communicating with customers in increasingly multilingual cities, fast food workers, grocery store clerks, even the folks who renew drivers’ licenses at the DMV become obsolete. Sure, somebody has to make all those bots, but many predict machines will eventually takeover those jobs, too.

This future scenario was studied by the Pew Research Center in August 2014. Pew interviewed 1,896 experts, asking “Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?”

Here’s what they found,

Half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers—with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.

The other half of the experts who responded to this survey (52%) expect that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by 2025. To be sure, this group anticipates that many jobs currently performed by humans will be substantially taken over by robots or digital agents by 2025. But they have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

That’s a pretty bleak report. I mean, sure, 52 percent of “experts” claim “human ingenuity” will save the day, but the basis of their optimism is “faith.” Profit, on the other hand, is what is driving this revolution. The drive for profit, not faith in humanity, is what has brought us to this point of industrial development.

But whichever side’s predictions prevail, what is certain is that all this change is going to scare the heck out of people, especially people already living in financial vulnerability, which is most of us. Scary political and economic times often, maybe even usually, result in increases in bigotry and scapegoating. And this is what got me thinking about robots as a race issue.

In a handy little book called Racism: A Short History, the great historian, George M. Frederickson, contrasts the effect of rapid modernization on German and American race relations at the turn of the 20th century. He points out that the United States was a fundamentally modern state in which it was believed among whites that modernity and rationality distinguished Caucasians from so-called “primitive” and “savage” Blacks.

Because of this, racial fears in a rapidly modernizing U.S. were mainly expressed in terms of exclusion and separation, not genocide. But, in Germany, modernization provoked widespread fear, not just of economic change but of changes to the cultural basis of German society. German Jews were stereotyped as the group in possession of the requisite qualities to take advantage of modernization, provoking resentment and fear that expressed itself in a form of a racialized othering that soon turned genocidal.

Not that long ago, during the U.S.-Japan auto wars of the 1970s and 80s, racist backlash against Japanese innovation in auto manufacturing, giving them an edge over U.S. makers, caused Asian Americans to become targets of scapegoating and racial violence. The famous case of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American mistaken for Japanese and beaten to death by disgruntled white autoworkers is but one example.

Today, Asia is driving the robotics revolution that may cost many of us our jobs. Here in the U.S., Asians are over-represented in STEM industries and stereotyped as having the qualities necessary to take best advantage of the robot age. In the American imagination, robots may have Asian faces.

We have some time. This change won’t happen overnight and dystopia is by no means assured. In a more hopeful scenario, the displacement of so many workers will force us to reconsider our value as human beings, not just as units of industrial productivity.

Half of us is a lot of people. When half of us is unemployed, the usual racist justifications for inequity – a (black) culture of poverty, welfare queens, and entitlement junkies don’t work so well at dividing (non)workers. Meanwhile, rebellion on that scale would be difficult is not impossible to quell. So maybe there’s a silver lining here, but to benefit from it, we’ll have to convince folks not to turn to other racist justifications and put Asian faces on job-stealing robots.

 

 

3 Responses to Robots with Chinese Faces

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  1. Craig (@HighlandClown) May 1, 2015 at 10:41 pm #

    Mechanisation is the single biggest timebomb for both the human race and capitalism. In time, both logical and physical mechanisation make capitalism in its current form completely unsustainable

    I think your comments on Germany are not accurate as they are based on a convenient truth (the propaganda we were all fed).

    Jewish resentment took a long time to manifest and from what I can see, appeared to be as much a jewish-made problem as it was an economic insecurity issue among ethnic Germans; remembering that prior to WW2 Germany was not only a haven for the worlds Jews but was also attacked by the Jewish community (Kazar Jews) that they hosted for so long. First in 1916 by convincing Britain to remain at war with Germany for an additional 2 years (on the condition the Brits, who controlled Palestine would give this to the Jews to create Israel, in return they would Bring the US in to the war by using their media might to change american oppinion from anti-Russian/pro German to anti-German) and later in the 30’s by using Jewish media might to boycott all German products across the globe which severely hurt the German ecomony…….Nazi propaganda capitalised on this and the result was anti-semitism.

    The only way we will stop bigotry by all races is to support the will for some to separate themselves (e.g. Chinatown and Asian communities across the globe, Israel, Indian communities across the globe and any other apartheid situation) as well as ensuring there are also muti ethic places for less tribally minded people from all races to mix as one people…..the only separations being ever present & seemingly unavoidable “class system”..

    But essentially the two dont mix. Intollerance &intollerance, or multi-ethic with multi-culturalism as the latter is a form of apartheid, non-inclusion.

  2. Joseph May 4, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    Replacing human workers with robots is a glimpse into an even greater evil targeting the human race: global poverty and oppression.

    When people lose jobs they lose hope, this also leads to higher crime rates and suicides.

    There are elitists – many of them eugenicists (or by modern terms are the proponents of the human biodiversity movement) – who believe that the human race should be purged of all undesirables. If you look closely many of these people attempt to co-opt Asians into their warped vision for the future.

    Birth control and abortions are designed to reduce the global population, but many of the targets are in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

    China is only now realizing that the ratio of men to women is skewed to the point that not only will this lead to a terrible loss of citizens but also increased crime as angry, unmarried men will turn to criminal activities if they can’t find women to marry.

    If people lack food, shelter and education they’ll be much more susceptible to the manipulations of those in power. We don’t know if robots will replace human workers on the scale suggested in this article, but it does show that there are forces at work intent on destroying most of the human race.

    In fact, as the majority of people around the world sink deeper into poverty, it serves as proof that in the days to come people food shortages will increase, housing will become ever more scarce and illness will run rampant.

    In those days people will look to a false saviour and bear the mark of death upon their foreheads or right hand. Anyone who does not bear the mark shall be denied food, housing and jobs, but to take the mark of evil is certain death.

    The Bible talks of this in the Book of Revelations (specifically Revelation 13:16).

    Sadly, things are going to get much worse for humanity before God puts a stop to it once and for all. Yet, that’s why it is important to bring attention to these matters so that less people will be deceived than would be if the news were not presented.

  3. USAma Bin Laden May 4, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Robots are only a symptom of the probem.

    The root cause that you conveniently avoid talking about is Capitalism.

    But Americans have almost an inbred talent for concocting scapegoats–whether that be robots or Asian people–to avoid facing the moral bankruptcy of their precious capitalist “democracy.”

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