Capek and Robots

My newspaper today has a quote from the great Czech writer Carel Capek who first coined the term robot in its modern sense.

“Man will never be enslaved by machinery if the man tending the machinery is paid enough.”

This sums up the eternal dilemma presented by machinery: the utopian notion of freeing humanity of the drudgery of repetitive work versus the replacement of those who do the repetitive work by robots, so creating soaring unemployment and human misery.

Some of the most widespread civil disturbances Britain ever saw were when hand weaving, which provided a means for agricultural labourers to supplement their meagre wages, was threatened with steam powered looms. Factories were torched, the term sabotage meant throwing sabots, or clogs into the machinery to break it.  The attempts by workers to form trade unions were brutally suppressed, many of whom were threatened with the death sentence or transportation to the colonies.

 

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