Robots

Writing About Robots: Good and Bad

Automation is good, unless the thing you're automating shouldn't be done in the first place.

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Domo arigato.

Kevin Kelly has a thoughtful piece on robots in Wired, mixing familiar economic arguments about automation with reporting on current robotics research. "While the displacement of formerly human jobs gets all the headlines, the greatest benefits bestowed by robots and automation come from their occupation of jobs we are unable to do," he argues:

We don't have the attention span to inspect every square millimeter of every CAT scan looking for cancer cells. We don't have the millisecond reflexes needed to inflate molten glass into the shape of a bottle. We don't have an infallible memory to keep track of every pitch in Major League Baseball and calculate the probability of the next pitch in real time.

We aren't giving "good jobs" to robots. Most of the time we are giving them jobs we could never do. Without them, these jobs would remain undone.

The essay may seem a little overstated at times, as futuristic features often do, but there are several solid ideas at its core. That's more than you can say for Philip N. Howard's Slate story "Let's Build Pro-Democracy Twitter Bots," a Thomas Friedmanesque proposal to spam the world into freedom.

The National Endowment for Democracy has a new director.

It's risible enough to suggest that what people struggling for self-government in other countries need is a guiding hand from the West. The idea that this hand should take the form of automated Twitter accounts is even more condescending. The "democracy bots need to be engaging, and promote stories about what life is like in countries where freedom and faith coexist," Howard writes—by, say, "send[ing] links about life in countries with peace, order, and good governance to moms blogging about their parenting troubles, students getting caught up in the Eurovision contest, and government workers reading online news from sources outside their country." Because that's what an Iranian mom really needs: The sort of spam I get when I mention a cup of coffee on Twitter, only instead of promoting a coffeemaker it promotes life in the U.S.A. With all due respect to Kelly, some jobs should remain undone.

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  1. I wish robots would put pundits out of a job. And then we could turn off the robots.

    1. Humorbot 5.0: So I says, “Super collider? I just met her.”

      [Audience laughs]

      Humorbot 5.0: And then they built the super collider. Thank you, you’ve been a great audience.

  2. ?apek and Laziest Men on Mars references FTW.

  3. Plus the idea of robots gave us I Robot by The Alan Parsons Project, an excellent album.

    1. On the other hand there is Mr Roboto by Styx.

      1. Ouch

  4. about life in countries with peace, order, and good governance

    Good governance? What country is that in? I’ve never been there before, wouldn’t mind taking a trip there though.

    Any effort by spam botters to attempt the export the stupidity that we are dealing with here in the US right now, should be considered a crime against humanity.

    Anyway, go for it, proglotards, we need a few more Arab Springs so that my burqua factory will be more profitable.

    1. More governance = Good governance hence Friedman’s hard-on for China.

    2. about life in countries with peace, order, and good governance

      It seems less like a good idea when accurately phrased “about life in countries with presidential drone murders, ongoing wars around the world, and allegedly good criminal gangs”

  5. Given the villainy that has happened in the name of peace, order, and good government, I am underwhelmed.

  6. We don’t have the attention span to inspect every square millimeter of every CAT scan looking for cancer cells. We don’t have the millisecond reflexes needed to inflate molten glass into the shape of a bottle.

    THEY TERK ER JERBS!!!!

    We don’t have an infallible memory to keep track of every pitch in Major League Baseball and calculate the probability of the next pitch in real time.

    Is he really suggesting that this is a job that needs to be done?

    1. I think MLB batting team managers would find value in knowing what pitch might next occur.

      1. So like I said, this is a job that needs to be done? Also, PERFORMANCE ENHANCER must be banned.

  7. You know, how hard would it be to replace politicians with robots? Code in some contentless catchphrases, program them to steal as much money as possible to buy votes with, include a random word generator to draft legislation, and you’re done, right?

    1. Think of how much faster revolutions would occur.

    2. You mean this wasn’t authored by a bot?

      We can’t simply cut our way to prosperity. Cutting spending has to go hand-in-hand with further reforms to our tax code so that the wealthiest corporations and individuals can’t take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans. And we can’t keep cutting things like basic research and new technology and still expect to succeed in a 21st century economy. So we’re going to have to continue to move forward in deficit reduction, but we have to do it in a balanced way, making sure that we are growing even as we get a handle on our spending . . .

      Today’s agreement enshrines, I think, a principle into law that will remain in place as long as I am President: The deficit needs to be reduced in a way that’s balanced. Everyone pays their fair share. Everyone does their part. That’s how our economy works best. That’s how we grow.

    3. Pro L, apparently its been a little harder than you’d think.

      The Romney-bot made it into beta testing, but the user feedback on it was only so-so. Back to development.

      1. Needs more random. Like the Obamatron.

  8. We don’t have an infallible memory to keep track of every pitch in Major League Baseball and calculate the probability of the next pitch in real time.

    We don’t an infallible memory to keep track of every license plate in Las Vegas and calculate the maximum amount of asset fortuitousness and illegal searches possible.

  9. Needs moar sex robots.

    1. Democracy bots are sex bots. Just not designed like Pris to be on the receiving end.

      1. Dafuq did I just watch? And by watch, I mean skipped through, of course.

  10. Hey, sexy mama… wanna kill all humans?

  11. We don’t have the millisecond reflexes needed to inflate molten glass into the shape of a bottle.

    Wow, I didn’t realize glassblowing wasn’t invented until after robots.

    1. Yeah, pretty sure blow molding has been around for a long time.

  12. Robots are assholes, that’s what they are. Fuck them, especially the one next to me right now.

    1. As someone who builds robots for a living, I should make some clever retort. But you are pretty much right.

      1. No wonder they’re assholes.

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