World’s funniest joke

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for

Whoa — the U.N. has released its now-annual World Robotics Survey. Apparently, there are currently 760,000 robots in the workplace right now, slightly over half of which are in Japan. The pace of robotization is declining, though; the huge boom of the 80s and 90s has begun to lag. Which is where this report is sort of creepy, because it quite shamelessly advocates replacing those fickle, expensive human workers with cheap and servile robots:

Why invest in robots? In the last decade the performance of robots has increased radically while at the same time prices have been plummeting. A robot sold in 2001 would have cost less than a fifth of what a robot with the same performance would have cost in 1990. Profitability studies have shown that it is not unusual that robots have a pay-back period as short as 1-2 years.

And not hire people? In Germany, for instance, the price of robots relative to labour costs have fallen from 100 in 1990 to 35 in 2001 and to less than 20 when taking into account the radically improved performance of robots. In North America, the relative price had dropped to 20 and to as low as about 10 if quality improvements are taken into consideration. “Falling or stable robot prices, increasing labour costs and continuously improved technology are major driving forces which speak for continued massive robot investment in industry”, concludes Jan Karlsson. Even in developing countries like Brazil, Mexico and China, robot investments are staring to take off at an impressive rate. (Italics theirs.)


However, I gotta admit, some of the categories of work robots are wonderfully Star Wars: “Demolition robots,” “Underwater work-class robots,” “Courier robots”. Believe it or not, there are currently 20 “robots in marketing” at work, and there’ll be 100,000 by 2005. By then, there will apparently also be at least five “wall-climbing robots” in the workplace.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for pointing out this item!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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