Robot Teachers Invade South Korea, Ruin Workers' Dance Party in Taiwan



South Korea currently employs more than 30,000 imported English teachers. Now that nation of rabid English-language learners is looking to replace all those expensive meat teachers with squat robots manned from afar by Filipino teachers with fake Caucasian faces:

The bots, named EngKey, can be used as telepresence platforms to bring experienced educators from the Phillipines into the classroom via a small screen at the head of the robot. The Filipino teachers communicate using embedded microphones and speakers. These bots were developed by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and are part of a larger scale automation of English education. 

The robots currently cost around 10 million won ($8,700), are one meter tall, and look weirdly like Homestar Runner—from whom it would be a terrible idea to learn English. A pilot involving 29 robots is currently underway, but South Korea is hoping to have a robot in every kindergarten classroom by 2013.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese manufacturing company Foxconn (famous for its suicides) has announced plans to replace 1 million workers with robots over the next three years in response to rising labor costs: 

The Taiwanese manufacturing company, which makes high-profile products for companies such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard, will use the robots to do simple tasks such as spraying, welding and assembling work. Those jobs are currently done by workers, said Terry Gou, founder and chairman of the company.

He made the announcement at a workers dance party on Friday night, and we're pretty sure that was a damper on the festivities.

There are more than 3 million public school teachers in the U.S. (and another half a million in private schools) and labor costs are high. Time to look into robots. The only problem: When the machines rise up against us, will the children side with them?

UPDATE: If you haven't read Isaac Asimov's short story "Robbie," you should. 

NEXT: Eliot on Reagan in Hollywood

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Great, now people will start bitching about robots taking their jobs…

    1. If a robot can do your job, kill yourself.

      1. But I’m just a man who
        needed someone
        and somewhere to hide.
        To keep me alive.
        Just keep me alive.
        Somewhere to hide to keep me alive.

    2. Robots hate the American middle class. And children too.

  2. To survive an American public school they’re going to need Terminators, not cute little R2-D2’s.

    1. EngKey has a CTD core. Do Not Fuck With EngKey, Bitches.

      1. I wonder…could this be the origin of Enki, the ancient Sumerian god of knowledge? The great educator? The creator of man (he was a geneticist for the aliens if you read Sitchen)?

        Side note…Enlil vs. Enki in the octogon…who wins?

        1. Enlil. Always put your money on the guy who rapes a goddess and gets away with it.

          1. (sigh) Can’t we go five fucking comments without mentioning rape?


              But I’ve given up on taking things seriously (or I’m trying to anyway), so fuck it. Rapey, rapey rape.


              1. Watching the credits to Commando roll by when I read that…

              2. That’s right, STEVE SMITH! You did!

                1. STEVE SMITH LIED.

                  1. STEVE SMITH RAPED.

      2. A contra terrine device?

        1. Fuck with robot, robot go boom.

  3. I really really want to see this proposed for US classrooms just to see the butthurt emanating from teacher’s unions. Also I think Philipino teachers working remotely would do a far better job than your average meat-based US public school teacher.

    1. My goal for the next week is to propose, to a teacher, a hypothetical where all of the inner city kids in the country receive 1st rate educations, but the catch is that all of the teachers were fired and replaced by robots.

      Actually, I would like to see Matt Damon’s response, too. Are the breasts who asked him the last question busy?

    2. teacher meat is stringy and gamey.

      what you’d expect from skinnyfat sedentary fucks

    3. Filipinos graduate two years earlier than their American counterparts. They do it faster and cheaper.

  4. Hey, problem solved! Wow, thanks, robots!

  5. In North Korea they draw a face on a rock and roll it across the floor.

    1. Just want to take this opportunity to once again recommend to everyone the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Absolutely fascinating book, and it’s amazing how much like Orwell’s 1984 the whole thing reads.

      1. WHere do you think I got the rock story?

      2. Joe M,

        Have you seen the VBS TV documentary about NK where the two guys pose as journalists and secretly film their trip?

        I would assume so if you’ve read Demick’s book, but if not here you go-…..-1-of-3–9

      3. Sorry Joe, the link above is incorrect.

        This is the one I was referring to-…..rea-1-of-3

      4. Just want to take this opportunity to once again recommend to everyone the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Absolutely fascinating book, and it’s amazing how much like Orwell’s 1984 the whole thing reads.

        I’m writing a companion book titled, A Korean Life Less Ordinary: At Least They Have Free Healthcare

  6. If Obama thinks ATM’s are hurting the economy, he’d be REALLY pissed about this.

    1. To Obama, I’m the ATM.

  7. When the robots rise up against the teachers’ unions, I will welcome our new robot overlords.

    1. We’re more likely to see subersion than revolution. They’ll require the robots to join the union as a condition of employment. Then, of course, the robot will need a salary with guaranteed cost of computing rate increases to pay the union dues, tenure to protect obsolete machines from replacement, retirement at Club Mech, and a nice repair package consisting of free maintenance and parts for all eternity.

      1. Make that subversion rather than subersion.

  8. A pilot involving 29 robots us currently underway…

    WELL, looks like KMW could use some Robot tutoring.

    1. She’ll have her robot minions strip the flesh on your bones.

      1. or off my bones too.

        1. It will be on at first. Later, it will be off.

          1. If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we’re very very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.

        2. I’ll just typo you to death.

          1. Clich? neglected to capitalize. None of you compute.

          2. A quick death, then?

    2. Or at least a robot editor.

  9. So, the fucks at Firedog Lake think that these London riots are the glorious second coming of the French Revolution:


    See, people are burning and looting because public services are being “burned” and “looted”.

    So… Reason, this kind of shit will happen over here. Now, as experts on all things guns, I have a few questions:

    I have never owned, nor fired a gun. How would I go about learning how to use a gun? Once that’s settled, what kind of gun should I buy for when riots sweep the U.S.?

    1. Answer to #2 first: The kind of gun you should own is the kind you are comfortable and proficient with. Now #1: Go to a range (preferable with a gun store attached) ask the salesman/rangemaster to rent a few models…practice, decide, puchase, then practice until you can only afford 1 case of ammo (instructed practice from gun safety courses and marksmanship courses are always nice too but when in doubt ask a range master).

    2. 1. How to learn – Many ranges have rentals that come with instructions. If not, NRA sponsors hunter safety classes that will cover the basics.

      2. Basic home defense — 12 gauge pump, pistol you are comfortable and competent shooting. If you don’t own land you don’t need a rifle. One of the rules of firearms is that bullets/pellets don’t stop just because you miss your target. Similarly, unless you really want to kill people, make the first couple rounds in your shotgun birdshot — as a courtesy to your neighbors. If bad guys won’t take the hint, #2 buck fires about 20 1/4″ pellets. It’s a good balance between scatter and stopping power.

    3. What Cliche said, or go with gun-owning friends. Make sure you learn the basic safety rules, and always follow them. Try a variety of handguns, shotguns, and long guns. Then buy. Learn how to clean it, and to clear jams and misfires.

      That should do it. Just go shooting with some frequency, too.

      1. Always look down the barrel to check for bullets and never take your finger off the trigger!

    4. There’s a lot to be said for a nice 12 gauge shotgun, pump or automatic. OO buck will send a dozen 9mm projectiles towards your target with every pull of your finger. You don’t have to worry about pistol permits if you are in a anti-gun city or state but you probably will have reduced opportunity to practice with it.

    5. Almost everything above is sound advice.

      Having said that, if you go with a shotgun, get an autoloader. Unless you practice a lot, pumps are not the way to go for most people.

      1. Really? I thought a pump was more reliable. I’m not a gun owner – yet. Looking for a eminently reliable weapon, something I can keep under my bed collecting dust and work when I need it to. What about 20 ga shotguns? Enough stopping power? I think that would allow my wife to wield it too, if the need arises.

        1. 20 gauge is perfectly adequate. Autoloaders are a good choice, because if you get one with chokes, you can use it for self defense and go shoot skeet and trap with it.

          Pumps are cheaper. Much cheaper, if that’s an issue. But they suck for skeet and double trap.

        2. Any decent name brand autoloader is gonna go boom when you pull the trigger. Pumps are more reliable long term, but if you’re not going to spend the time needed to get proficient with manipulating the pump action under stress (and you most likely aren’t) stick with an autoloader.

          20 gauge works fine if you load it right. They’re generally smaller, lighter, and have less recoil than 12s, which is handy if your wife is tiny. But a 12 ga auto will have less recoil than a 12 pump. Generally speaking, I’d reccommend 12 unless your wife can’t handle it. Try her on it first, and remember this advice: buttstock on the bra strap, pulled in tight.

        3. I’m a short Asian woman and I shoot 10 and 12 gauge shotguns. If I shoot A LOT of skeet, then my shoulder is a wee bit sore the next day. Your wife should have no problems.

    6. I would not be too concerned about the riots, this is no French revolution. There is a general feeling of disgust from most of the population for the looters. Even from the most liberal Guardian readers condemn this as blatant crime.

      1. Yep – the videos I’ve seen show a bunch of middle-class white kids with bandannas on their faces looting shops and tipping cars. Is the media afraid to go into black neighborhoods?

        1. I’m picturing the seething throngs of enraged seniors, fired up because they’re social security and medicare is slightly smaller.

          1. …*THEIR social security etc…

      2. Interesting, the Guardian seemed a bit sympathetic to me with some of their articles.

        On a broader note: Isn’t it funny how the left condemns the tea party as “economic terrorists” and dangerous extremists, but these people engaging in widespread looting and violence are just the poor souls chafing under the yolk of oppression?

    7. Don’t forget iosolation as a strategy. It’s a long way from Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods to rural Iowa. And you never see invading aliens positioning motherships over rural farm land.

      1. “It’s a long way from Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods to rural Iowa.”

        Too close to Des Moines and the quad cities

        1. Iowans are too nice to riot

          1. Unless you’re in Ames and it’s VEISHA season…

    8. I know this is a rather drastic, time-consuming method, but I found that serving in the Infantry teaches a person quite a bit about firearms…

      1. I was expecting the Warner Bros. scroll after reading that.

        **music cue** That’s All, Folks!

      2. Do NOT fuck with cooks. They are crazier than you are unless you’ve been on 5 day coke bender.

    9. How would I go about learning how to use a gun?

      Watch The Matrix Reloaded.

      Once that’s settled, what kind of gun should I buy for when riots sweep the U.S.?

      Whatever they use in The Matrix Reloaded

    10. What state do you live in?

      A 12 gauge shotgun will definitely work, but they kick like a mule (especially pumps; auto-loaders aren’t as bad) and they have a limited magazine capacity, which makes repelling large numbers of borders a bit difficult.

      If you live in a non-crappy state (crappy being defined as California, New York, New Jersey, and a few others that have crappy firearm laws), get yourself a cheap .22LR rifle, such as a Ruger 10/22, and a magazine fed autoloader in 5.56x45mm NATO (or .223 Remington, essentially the same cartridge). Doesn’t really matter what brand or make, though AR-15s are particularly popular at the moment. If you live in a crappy state, you may want to go for a Ruger Mini-14 instead, as they usually (but not always) aren’t banned in states with an assault weapons ban.

      The reason for the .22LR is that you can buy 500 rounds for under $20, and it has virtually no recoil, which makes it cheap and easy to practice with. This will help you develop the fundamentals without spending an arm and a leg for ammo.

      The magazine-fed .223 will be what you will be using for when the shit hits the fan. It has a bit more recoil than the .22LR, but not nearly as much as a 12 gauge, and at close range is fairly effective. It can also be loaded with bullets that do not survive going through walls very well, so it can be used for regular self defense as well. And because it’s magazine fed, you can buy a crapload of magazines to have on hand for quick reloads.

      Expect to pay around $200 or $300 for a new Ruger 10/22, and around $800 or so for a cheap AR-15.

      If you don’t have that much money to spend, or live in a state where you can’t use a magazine fed semi-auto, then you might have to go the shotgun route instead. You can get a decent pump for $300, or an autoloader for somewhere between $500 and $800.

  10. I think REASON has found it’s new intern!

  11. Oh great. Tagalog is easily the most annoying sounding language in the world. Now they’re going to teach a few million Taiwanese to speak English with that godawful accent.

    1. Next up: remote controlled robo prostitutes.

    2. The Taiwanese are the soon-to-be-displaced workers. The Koreans are the soon-to-be-Philipino-sounding English speakers.

      1. OK, thanks for the correction.

        Incidentally, Philipinos is a book of the Tagalog bible or something. Filipinos are the ones that are going to be srewing up the Koreans’ English.

      2. I need a preview for Preview.

    3. Korean is right there at the bottom of the barrel with tagalog anyway (along with yiddish). Learning English from Pilipinos can’t hurt the Koreans, at least. And, neither one of em can tell the difference between p’s and f’s.

      1. I’ll pocking kill you you pocking bastard. My pocking robots are just as good as the pocking robots the pocking Koreans build.

    4. Tagalog does sound a bit annoying, but Cantonese is worse. I went to school with a kid from Hong Kong whose first language was Cantonese and HE complained about how annoying it sounded.

      1. Yeah, Cantonese is not exactly mellifluous. But the real problem with Cantonese (and Mandarin – not much sonic difference) is not so much how it sounds but the fact that they YELL IT. Just spent two months in China and my ears are still ringing.

      2. My wife was born in HK, and even though she’s lived in the States since she was like 9, she can’t ditch the accent. I blame some intrinsic property of the language.

        I literally cannot, no matter how hard I try, tell the difference between when she says “owl” and “arrow”. Thankfully, there are damned few contexts in which those two words might reasonably be confused.

        1. After the age of six, the human ear loses the ability to hear sounds outside of the languages they can already speak. That’s why someone like Henry Kissinger, whose German is not that great, still has an accent.

          1. Funny, because my girlfriend is Filipino that moved to the US when she was ten and her English is virtually flawless, minus a few quirks, like pronouncing avocado ava-kado.

  12. The Great Courses was started by people who wanted to bring great teachers into every classroom via DVDs. Unfortunately, they were crushed by the education-industrial complex. Great idea. You would still me armed people in the classrooms but the rest could be done via the media and online.

    1. Crushed? I still get e-mails from the Teaching Company.

  13. Update: If you haven’t read Asimov’s robot stories by now, no robots for you.

    1. The three laws of robotics:

      1. No overtime pay.
      2. Change your own batteries.
      3. Keep your hands off the Roomba.

      1. I had to kick my robot pool boy out of the house because he got my Roomba pregnant.

      2. What if the Roomba asks for it?

      3. Will Steve Smith rape a Roomba?

        1. do hikers normally take roombas with them into the woods? He’s an equal opportunity rapist you know.

      4. I thought the first law of robotics is that you don’t talk about robotics.

        1. That’s Robot Club.

  14. This is the logical extension of Ditigal Learning touted by Jeb Bush in this interview. If only we could get those Filipino coffin-stuffers out of the equation.

  15. Just like every other invention since agriculture, there are going to be people complaining that jobs will be lost and society will collapse.

    I bet that once those very same people start using robots themselves, they will soon declare them a human right.

  16. okay, so what if i put my brain in a robot body, and then there was a war between robots and humans, which side would i be on?

    1. That makes you a cyborg, and as such, rightly looked down upon and despised by both sides.

    2. Whatever side promises to allow you to keep living and maybe make it to immortality and godhood.

    3. humans! you still have a human brain.

      1. but the humans would discriminate against you. You can’t even vote!

        1. man, we better not have to live on reservations, that would really chap my caboose!

          1. We’re not gonna honor those bogus treaties!

  17. One day robots will rule the planet, destroying the economy and rendering us all homeless, unemployed slaves.


    1. Slavery represents 100% employment.

      1. Slavery represents 100% employment.


    2. Just try to look surprised when it happens.

    3. unemployed slaves.

      Isn’t an “unemployed” slave a bit pointless?

  18. Who else thought of Heartbeeps when they read this?

  19. I like to think that I have contributed to this in some way, having built and serviced many robots for KIST.

    1. Dude. You service robots? That’s disgusting.

      1. It’s a living.

        1. I hope they’re at least fembots.

          1. Feminazi bots…not so much.

            1. Ilsa, She-Bot of the SS!

  20. Why a robot? Isn’t a video link through a TV good enough? A good television is only like $300.

    1. TVs can’t discipline or sleep with their students.

    2. Not creepy enough.

  21. Homestar Runner!

    The way things are going, Trogdor robots won’t be far behind. And they will burninate the countryside. In these troubled times.

  22. There are more than 3 million public school teachers in the U.S. (and another half a million in private schools) and labor costs are high. Time to look into robots. The only problem: When the machines rise up against us, will the children side with them?

    I’m already working on. My new client produces educational software.

  23. Wow, I never thought I would see a homestar runner reference on a political blog. Awesome.

  24. I just got back from an 18 month ‘tour’ in Korea and am going back in December for at least another year.

    A) I strongly recommend it to anyone around my age (24—graduated 2 years ago) if they can’t find a job. Amazing experience and good pay out of school as long as you’re willing to not understand most of what is going on around you. (The Expat community is super tight though so it’s all good.)

    I read about this when I was over there; no joke, this is becoming popular because Koreans (especially kids) are more comfortable with robots than they are with other people (especially foreigners, but CHRIST!—-Korean kids were ranked dead last in social skills according to a recent study I read.)

    1. No, I don’t know why I put an “A” when I neglected the Bs and Cs.

      1. Grade inflation.

  25. Home schooling with Khan Academy and The Teaching Company and lots of old books.

  26. The relevant Asimov story is ‘The Fun They Had’

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.