Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Robot Workers: Coexistence Is Possible

In more and more industries, human workers are losing out to robots—but coexistence is possible
Robot Workers: Coexistence Is Possible
Illustration by Andrew Rae; Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

The robots are coming. Resistance is futile. From car factories to microprocessor plants to fulfillment warehouses, a single robot can now handle tasks that once took hundreds of man-hours to complete. This relentless march of automation is causing economic upheaval. As time goes on, companies will become more productive and more efficient, but the amount of human labor required will decrease and the pay will be less. The sentient worker will be reduced to a relic of a simpler age.

This is what we’ve been told, anyway. To some economists, stubbornly high unemployment rates in the U.S. and Europe are at least partly attributable to the rise of machines. “There’s no question that in some high-profile industries, technology is displacing workers of all, or almost all, kinds,” wrote Paul Krugman in the New York Times on Dec. 9, adding that “many of the jobs being displaced are high-skill and high-wage.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of Race Against the Machine, says: “Robots are becoming more capable and skilled, and people with the same sets of skills are not as much in demand.” According to this view, robots aren’t change agents. They’re destroyers of worlds.