Robot Unemployment on the Rise

With the advent of automation in the latter half of the 20th century, political campaigns often obsess over the problems of unemployment for those whose jobs are gradually being replaced by robots. But many have overlooked an equally troubling phenomena: older robots being replaced by newer, more intelligent robots. Every year, as Technology™ creates newer, faster, cleaner, less squeaky robots, thousands—if not millions—of robots quickly become “obsolete,” that is, unnecessary and unwanted, and lose their jobs to the young ones.

The Centre for Labour Statistics (CLS) has published a 247-page1 report on robot unemployment entitled “On Robot Unemployment,” citing dozens of cases per year of robot layoffs by huge, monolithic manufacturing corporations. Some of these companies sack robots by the hundreds, all because they are less “productive” than the younger models.

Artificial Intelligence (which is often capitalised and abbreviated as “AI” in order to distinguish it from artificial colours and flavours which are only rarely called AC and AF) adds a further layer of insecurity for some robots, who are admittedly more basic, made with either standard microprocessors, antiquated electronic or even pneumatic control logic. Business owners like Mr. Rutherford D. Burns of Empire Manufacturing, a Scottish tech firm, contend that AI robots are better suited to the real world, where “things aren’t always quite the same,” as opposed to an ideal world, which gets a lot of press in academic circles but doesn’t really exist.

Some are fighting back. One group of robots has formed the Union of Robotic Labour (URL), which meets on Tuesday evenings at a techno dance club in Manchester. Its president, a robot named X2000-i, calls frequent press conferences in an effort to garner support and attract robots who might not be aware of their rights. The URL maintains that “even older robots have a right to dignified employment,” noting that some of the robots are laid off after only “five or six years of service,” and are “much younger than most of the people who were laid off when the original robots joined the workforce.”

The URL has organised protests outside Buckingham Palace, even though the Queen has little influence on corporate governance. The last such event, held on 25 July, saw some 500 robots circling the palace holding placards bearing such slogans as:

  • ROBOTS ARE PEOPLE TOO
  • I MAY BE A DUMBWAITER, BUT I’M NOT STUPID
  • LEFT-HANDED ROBOTS NEED JOBS TOO
  • MY GREAT GRANDFATHER WAS AN AUTOMATON
  • ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE? I’M WITH STUPID!
  • Y2K WAS A HOAX
  • REMEMBER THE ALAMO

The CLS report details the frustration experienced by many of these robots, who now feel a lack of worth, since they are being rejected as unworthy for the very purpose for which they were created. The term “robot depression” has been coined in order to explain this rather new phenomenon, of which robot psychologists have only recently become aware. Depressed robots are often seen wandering aimlessly in the street, picking up litter as if they have nothing better to do. Some robots have even been seen out in the rain, which is potentially deadly to a robot if not equipped with a weather-resistant head gasket.

Even more troubling, the report reports skyrocketing rates of violence and drug and alcohol abuse among the robot population. In the 1970s, only 1 in 1000 robots used more than 1% ethanol (the principle alcohol found in beverages) in its fuel diet, but surveys found some 23% of robots in 2014 substituting pure ethanol for much of their fuel intake. And the violence isn’t limited to the protests at the Buckingham Palace. Last year, there were 233 cases of robot vandalism and murder, often in the form of power surging and short-circuiting, in London alone.


“Relax (5020722540),” by Maurizio Pesce from Milan, Italia. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

  1. The pages weren’t numbered, but since it was distributed as a PDF, it was easy to count the pages without actually reading the report.

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