Robots are going to steal your job – really?

According to Nietzsche, endless recurrence is the natural state of existence. There is infinite time, and a finite number of events, so the same events keep on happening over and over again.

I’m not sure whether this theory holds in general, but when it comes to prophecies about robots trying to steal our jobs, it definitely seems to hold some truth.

Throughout history, the impact of new technologies on employment has instilled fear and dread. Considering the number of times the robot apocalypse on the labor market was announced in the last centuries, it’s a small miracle there are any jobs left at all.

Look at these famous doomsayers:

  • In the 1590s, Queen Elizabeth refused a patent for a knitting machine, remarking: “Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring them to ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.”
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  • In the early 19th Century, a group of revolutionary English textile workers, the Luddites, rampaged through textile factories, destroying machines, out of fear that their jobs would disappear by automation. Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill and many other influential thinkers offered a deeply pessimistic view on how technology and automation would drive the masses into unemployment and poverty.
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  • Global robot hysteria peaked in the 1930s. By 1933, US unemployment was at a staggering 25% due to the Great Depression, many people held robots to blame. For example, the American Federation of Musicians spent more than 500K$ on ads to fight the advance of “robot music”— prerecordings on records, that were “quickly putting all professional musicians out of work”.
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  • The  late 1950’s and 1960’s saw another manifestation of robophobia, resulting in headlines such as:
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  • Interestingly, when the Atomium was opened to the public for the famous World Expo of 1958 in Brussels, the Belgian socialist newspaper Le Peuple saw it as a Triumph of Man over Robots, a manifestation of optimism and belief in the future.
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Nowadays, robot hysteria is back in full swing. Many prominent thinkers forecast mass unemployment due to new technologies that enter the workplace. You have heard the premonitions: 50% of all jobs will be automated in the next 10 years. Robots will destroy our jobs, and we’re not ready for it.

Will this time be different? Or will future generations look back at the current outbreak of robophobia and classify it as equally unjustified as its previous manifestations?

I tend to side with Nietzsche on this one, that eternal recurrence is a joyful truth.