Artifact Politics

During the Thanksgiving break, I watched the movie Interstellar. And I was impressed by a robot in the movie called “TARS”. TARS is just like a human being, it can talk, finish some work and move quickly. Of course, we haven’t seen a robot like TARS so far. However, the technology is approaching the functions which TARS has. For instance, when President Obama visited Japan in 2014, he met one of the most advanced robot in the world, Asimo. Asimo was designed by Honda several years ago and Honda is improving it continuously. It can run, dance just like us. President Obama said “too lifelike” to describe Asimo. Making robots which can move like a human being, that’s what people can make right now. But Asimo is too expensive for the mass production, it’s just a mark of the most advance technologies, not some kind of revolution in the industry. So actually most of the robots we can see in the assembly line are like arms or something else, not humanoid. And there are designed to finish one or some certain tasks and work according to the default programs. In some factories, there are only some robots in the assembly line, especially in the developed countries. Nonetheless, in many developing countries, people get lower income so although some products or parts which have to be produced precisely by robots, the assembly of some electronic devices and products which can be produced without high technologies will be finished by these workers. Now China is the main country who makes such kind productions. Robots are only used in the certain situation in China. But even in this case, robots have changed our life a lot. People get cheaper products with better quality especially if we compare some new electronic devices with many devices which were designed decades ago.

Although we haven’t seen Asimo all around but in the near future, that kind of robots may change the society in political dimensions. Now the trend can be seen from Foxconn from Taiwan, the huge supplier of Apple. Foxconn set up many big factories in China in order to use the advantage of the lower labor cost in China, and Foxconn itself is just like an authoritarian institution to these workers. They were taught and ordered to do the fixed procedures to produce something like iPhones. But during the recent years, workers in China can earn more money than they can before. So Foxconn shrank the workforce in order to cut costs recently. Some managers of Foxconn had to admit that the automation may be the key in the future to cut costs. As we can see from what Foxconn did, with the development of robots and the economy of many developing countries, robot may be cheaper when a manager wants to find labors decades in the future. Assembly line may be filled with various kinds of robots, humanoid and non-humanoid ones. Who will hire people then? Robots can do works better and seldom make mistakes. And there is no need to meet the standards set by unions. Robots won’t be tired. No 8-hour limit. No complaint about the situation of the workplace and salaries. Just tap the switch and the factory will run automatically. It seems that the authoritarianism in the assembly line as we can see in Foxconn and other factories in many developing countries right now will come to the end, but other problems may occur. In this situation, people who don’t have advanced skills or a higher education degree will lose jobs just like some workers in Foxconn. And as for politics, in democratic countries, politics may become more polarized than we can see today. We may never see the cooperation between different parties because they stand for the completely opposite groups in the society—people who have more knowledge and people who don’t. And in the countries without democracy, some new dictators may appear because their society is split into two parts as well. One stands for people in poverty and another one stands for people who still have their jobs.

Robots changed our life and set political arrangements just like steam engine in the industrial revolution, and in the future, the politics may be more deeply changed by the robots.

Footnotes:

  1. Juliet Eilperin, “Obama finds Japanese robots ‘a little scary’”. The Washington Post. Apr 24, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/04/24/obama-finds-japanese-robots-a-little-scary/
  2. Michael Gold and Yimou Lee, “Exclusive: Apple supplier Foxconn to shrink workforce as sales growth stalls”. Reuters. Jan 27, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/27/us-hon-hai-labor-idUSKBN0L00Z520150127
  3. The Image: American Honda Motor Co. Inc., “Meet Asimo”. http://asimo.honda.com/gallery/
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2 thoughts on “Artifact Politics”

  1. I love the use of this artifact and factory robotics in general. My dad works at a Honda plant here in Ohio and works with these machines every day, which I got to see in action during a Honda Family Day Tour this past fall. These amazing pieces of technology aid him and his employees in accomplishing their tasks in a timely manner each day. Even more astonishing than the presence of this type of technology is that those with little knowledge of robotics can work with such expensive pieces of technology daily. My father, a high school graduate with no college education, is capable of operating and even repairing these technologies. And repairs are a regular occurrence. Despite their advancement, these machines are often described as temperamental. They may not care that their workspace is 105 degrees in the middle of July, but they definitely care when an adaption to a line is made. Unlike humans, every change to a line is also crucial to the efficiency of that line’s robotic component. This is good for me, as it affirms my father’s position at Honda. It is uncomfortable to consider robotics taking over companies like Honda and the effect it would have on my family.

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  2. I like how you went on to discuss how an increase in the amount of robots in the world will more than likely have huge and far reaching effects on the international economy and workforce. Kind of cool to imagine a world where our needs are completely met. However like you said, many people have lost their livelihoods at the hands of these machines, and so for many their benefits have yet to be seen.

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