We’re Afraid Of Robots Because We Don’t Believe In God

For robots to even be considered a threat, we must assume their complex tasks are so like what a human being does that their ascendency is only a matter of technological refinement.

We read these days that Americans worry automation will soon make their labor obsolete. Although this supposed threat to the employability of millions involves the convergence of multiple technologies—including computer programming, chip design, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, and material science—it is most often identified with the word robot, conjuring dark images of hapless workers callously sidelined by efficient and tireless electronic rivals.

The political solutions for this robot threat are predictable. Those on the Left, inclined to a static view of job opportunity, want a guaranteed income for the growing number of workers they claim will be permanently displaced. Those on the Right, believing machines will require, not fewer, but better-educated employees, demand school reforms to adequately prepare the future workforce.

Yet a metaphysical aspect to automation, although rarely discussed, suggests the current anxiety is more than just economic. By metaphysical, I am referring to the fact that, for robots to even be considered a workplace threat, we must assume the complex tasks they perform are so like what a human being does that their ascendency is only a matter of technological refinement.

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