Game Over?

March 13

Here’s another cool robot. And I’ll let you watch. And then I’ll tell you why I think it’s cool. And then I’ll tell you why I think it’s important.

Did you jump ahead in the video to skip over some of the pointless dramatics? I hope so. Let me digress and say that video, for all its current popularity, is usually a very inefficient transmitter of information. A big time-eater. And even as entertainment, well, yawn. I think a ten-second video clip of this Ping Pong contraption would have sufficed. If you didn’t bother to watch at all, spoiler alert, the machine lost. But let’s face it, it will be winning soon enough. John Henry always loses eventually. The thing could clearly already beat me, and that’s all that matters.

But what it shows is robot dexterity, just one of many attributes that robots didn’t used to have. Robots won’t be lumbering across the landscape like zombies, ie 1950’s sci-fi robots. They have dexterity now and they are rapidly acquiring all the other attributes of Doing Things. This will continue, and accelerate, just like the nimble paddle of the one-armed Ping Pong Robot. They will be able to do everything, and they will in fact be doing it.

MY plan is to let them. Let them do all the hard work, anyway. Any work that is fun, we can do that, for fun and/or passion. An unlimited army of worker robots and servants could make life very pleasant indeed. But here’s the catch. It’s pretty easy to imagine how robot labor might just make income distribution worse by taking not just the work, but the paycheck as well and pingponging it over to the robot’s owner, who may not be you. This is something we absolutely will be dealing with in the not-so-distant future. It would be something worth a discussion, if we ever discussed anything worth discussing in this country, that is. The ball is in our court.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog.
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Tom Toles · March 12