Anti-worker robots

From the January-February 2014 issue of News & Letters:

Anti-worker robots

Detroit—Robotics development has exploded within the past three years, due in large part to international programs sponsored by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA started developing driverless vehicles nine years ago and has long worked in the field of sophisticated robots.

At a competition of robots held in December in Florida, the Japanese robot dominated all others in eight designated tasks, including: clearing out debris, climbing a ladder, opening and closing doors, and driving a golf cart. It gave a preview of the next generation of multi-tasking robots that have a great potential to do much good—as well as devastating harm.

Robots can go into places that are dangerous to humans—fires, explosions, poisonous fumes, nuclear meltdowns, battlefields—performing many tasks required for human existence. However, under capitalism, robotics has made millions unemployed. Robots have also become a means for employers to intimidate workers who oppose management dictates.

Management has but one goal—to increase profits. This means sacrificing workers. Capitalists have no choice: When there is a conflict between workers and profits, it is the workers who must go.

But it doesn’t end there. Since labor is the primary source of all value, removing labor removes value and profit. Capitalism faces itself through its contradictions as its own gravedigger, but does not go peacefully. This generates a revolutionary response in society, and the future hangs in the balance.

A similar contradiction exists in robotics, with its great potential to contribute much that is positive, yet this potential is stymied by capitalism that is not based on human needs but on capital. That’s why it stands in total opposition to the philosophy that Karl Marx developed and called humanism.

—Andy Phillips

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