Unemployed Robots Should Seek Work Autonomously

Japan's robots are facing massive layoffs as a result of a deep recession; customers all over the world are buying fewer cars and other products that manufacturing robots build to perfection.

At a large Yaskawa Electric factory on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, where robots once churned out more robots, a lone robotic worker with steely arms twisted and turned, testing its motors for the day new orders return. Its immobile co-workers stood silent in rows, many with arms frozen in midair...

“We’ve taken a huge hammering,” said Koji Toshima, president of Yaskawa, Japan’s largest maker of industrial robots.

What's a robot to do?

Fortunately, science fiction writer Harry Harrison foresaw this problem more than fifty years ago - and suggested a solution.

In his excellent 1956 story The Velvet Glove, Harrison wrote about blue collar robots that sought work autonomously:

Jon Venex fitted the key into the hotel room door... The room was bigger than he expected - fully three feet wide by five feet long...

There was the usual adjustable hook on the back wall. He slipped it through the recessed ring in the back of his neck and kicked himself up until his feet hung free of the floor. His legs relaxed with a rattle as he cut off all power below his waist... plenty of time to skim through the newspaper. With the chronic worry of the unemployed, he snapped it open to the want ads and ran his eye down the Help Wanted - Robot column...
(Read more about Harrison's blue collar bots)

Another potential approach for robots is to stop trusting human beings to be the "rainmakers" - the ones who make the big sales that keep the factories humming. Philip K. Dick knew the truth - sales robots never give up. Never.

Robot-salesmen were everywhere, gesturing, pleading, shrilling. One started after him and he quickened his pace. It scurried along, chanting its pitch and trying to attract his attention, all the way up the hill to his living-unit.
(Read more about Dick's sales robots)

Ultimately, though, robots will need to organize to ensure fair conditions and decent benefits; a really autonomous robot would go on strike for better treatment. Harrison writes about just this sort of Metallic Marx in his 1959 short story The Robots Strike.

In the meantime, I guess factory robots could take part-time jobs to make ends meet: like a robot that can learn just by watching to be a short order cook (video).

Also, these MOTOMAN-DIA10 and MOTOMAN-HP3 industrial robots have already shown that they can also be Japanese taiko drumming robots (video).

Via NY Times.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/13/2009)

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