The New York Times, For One, Does Not Welcome Our New Robot Servants


Drzazga256 / Wikimedia Commons

Sure, robots make life easier. And despite occasional accidents, they generally make factory work safer, by cutting down on the man-hours required to do dangerous tasks. But what happens when they all start killing us? That's what The New York Times would like to know.

In a recent article titled "As Robotics Advances, Worries of Killer Robots Rise" (seriously), the NYT warns that social fears about robot-on-human killings are increasing and that "experts" believe factory robots pose a mounting risk to the people they work alongside.

These experts were all out to lunch, apparently, since the paper didn't bother to track any of them down—or anyone at all who is freaked out about the mechanical menace. The best the article can manage is a quote from an expert explaining why people might be irrationally afraid of robots:

"It's the fear of robots," said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School who studies driverless cars. "There's something scarier about a machine malfunctioning and taking away control from somebody."

Panicking yet? If not, check out this handy infographic provided by the Times, which depicts—in painstaking detail—the 33 robot-caused workplace deaths in the U.S. over the last 30 years.

Factory robots are hardly the only reason the NYT thinks you should fear the future:

But the robots whose generation is being born today collaborate with humans and travel freely in open environments where people live and work. They are products of the declining cost of sensors and improved artificial intelligence algorithms in areas such as machine vision. Google's newest driverless car, for instance, is completely automated, without a steering wheel or a brake pedal.

Along with the new, free-roaming robots come new safety concerns. People worry about what happens if a robot spins out of control, or the first time a driverless car kills someone.

People might worry about that (again, the article doesn't take note of anyone who does), but as Reason's Ronald Bailey has written, recent evidence suggests that they would be generally wrong. In fact, the Times recently reported on two studies that found self-driving cars would greatly increase passenger safety.

Perhaps, "As Robotics Advances, Unfounded Worries of Killer Robots Still Reported By Newspaper" would have been a more accurate headline.

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  1. It’s not modern journalism if it’s not a pants-shitting scare story about nothing.


    2. Not to mention that they likely will oppose robots because they’ll displace the working man they purport to speak for.

      It’s interesting if there really is a Frankenstein complex developing over workplace robots. Asimov gets a point, though the Three Laws are not a real-world solution.

      No, the real-world solution is to cyborg ourselves so that we retain supremacy over robots.

      1. Until we’re able to swap out body mods a la Deus Ex, the greatest RPGFPS ever produced, I don’t want to hear about cyborg anything.

        1. the greatest RPGFPS ever produced

          Isn’t that the same as claiming the shit you laid last Wednesday the greatest shit ever produced?

          1. I had Mexican for lunch and lobster bisque, crab cakes and creme brulee for dinner on Thursday, so Friday morning’s was a hall of famer.

          2. Eat a dick. I loved Deus Ex.

      2. Highly educated women are having more children and offloading the extra work on payed servants.

        Think of the horrible population bomb that will occur if robots became cheap enough to help every mom?!?!?

      3. When the minimum wage hits $15/hr, robots will be making your burger and fries.

        Bonus: Robots can’t spit in your food.

        1. But they can leak lubricant into it.

    3. I suspect this was just some psych-ops planted story by SkyNet. They infiltrate the NY Times computers, print a bogus story that everyone ridicules about how dangerous robots are, so we aren’t worried when the robots really start picking us off.

  2. Are we suddenly entering an alt-text Golden Age!!!!

    1. I have no mouth, and I must scream.

      1. Best reference ever!


  4. That’s a kind of evil-looking robot.

    1. I figured someone would have got to it by now. Yes, Old Glory insurance.

  5. “Along with the new, free-roaming robots come new safety concerns. People worry about what happens if a robot spins out of control, or the first time a driverless car kills someone.”

    At that point, it will be Robots 1, Humans a billion zillion zillion traffic deaths caused.

    Of course, it’s not like machine failure doesn’t already cause deaths.

    This is just another of those weird stories of the form:

    “We should all soil ourselves in terror over the *decreasing* but non zero harm new technology will cause relative to existing methods.”

    1. Take some time and work in automation for inspection software. It’s not good enough to prove it works twice as good as the super bored human you had doing it before.

  6. Time for me to call Old Glory Insurance and take out a robot-attack policy.

    “And when they grab you with those metal claws, you can’t break free.. because they’re made of metal, and robots are strong.”

  7. Christ, the Times story is dumb. 33 whole deaths…which is about the same number of people killed by bee or wasp stings every single year. Seems like the Times is increasingly becoming the paper of record of the “afraid of everything” crowd.

    1. Haven’t you read the comments by subscribers there? We already knew that.

    2. You are about 50 times more likely to die of a bee sting than of an industrial robot accident.

  8. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you….. The Party of Science.

  9. The New York Times editorial board could be productively replaced by robots.

    Or maybe potted plants.

    1. At least plants would provide oxygen instead of wasting it.

    2. There’s already a Thomas Friedman bot.

  10. I’m not clicking on an NYT link. But I figure if there is any killer robot R&D going on, it’s the DoD at the forefront. Any chance the NYT calls for slashing the DoD budget?

    Drone away.

  11. I was always more scared of Dr. Smith than the robot.

    1. Dr. Smith was evil, but he was a moron. The scariest thing about him was worrying when he was going to get everyone killed pushing some button he should have left alone.

  12. Well, the NYT is at least sentient enough(although, I’m sure, barely) to recognize that any first, no matter how lame, attempt at AI has to be smarter than all of their staff. And you know, said AI just might NOT be smart enough(politically speaking) to keep their trap shut about how the current POTUS is a no talent, lying, luddite, cretin, moron, idiot.

  13. Bullshit. First Law.

  14. So I actually looked at the stupid list. It was all “some numbskull stuck his head between two giant pieces of metal while the machine was still on and he was killed.” These were not accidents where someone was minding their own business when a robot went berserk and started mowing them down. These were accidents involving robots only if you define robots VERY broadly. Most of them are just variations on “someone got their pants leg caught in a conveyor belt and wasn’t bright enough to take them off before they got chewed up.”
    No Robbie the Robot going crazy and shooting laser bolts at everyone on the factory floor. Imagine my disappointment!

    1. Don’t worry, Google is working on it.

  15. Robots kill 30 people in 30 years.
    Cars kill 30,000 people in 1 year.
    We should be more afraid of cars.

  16. The derp!

    It BURNS!

  17. Instantly reminded me of the SNL skit with Sam Waterston selling robot insurance.

  18. Is there anything the NYT isn’t wrong about?

    Hurry, get your wooden shoes and throw them in the robots’ gears!!!!!111one

  19. What about when they take our jerbs?

  20. People worry about what happens if a robot spins out of control

    As opposed to the recent spate of incidents where flesh-n-blood people spun out of control?

    Obviously robots must be added to the NICS-banned list, unless they also come with a badge.

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