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Tuesday
May202008

Will robots make people obsolete? (1959)


The January 4, 1959 issue of Parade magazine published a piece by Sid Ross titled, "Will Robots Make People Obsolete?"

The piece in its entirety appears below in all its dystopian glory. Who knew that Parade could be so dark? The piece claims that in the future "mankind's major struggle will be against boredom, with the suicide rate zooming as people lose the race."

The heaviness of the piece, along with the accompanying illustration, raise so many questions. Chief among them, why would a family of four gleefully jump into that menacing robot's mouth?


Secondly, why would Father be fed an entire pumpkin? For that matter, why is this evil machine feeding him at all?


Is Robo-Dog attacking Little Johnny for a reason? Maybe Johnny pulled Robo-Dog's metal tail one too many times. I'm willing to accept the possibility that Johnny deserves what's coming to him.


Lastly, despite the abject horror on Mother's face, the robot servant appears to be doing a damn fine job. Baby is happy and there's no indication that supper is burning. Granted, we have to assume that Mother was less-than-gingerly placed into that trash can by Mr. Octo-Eyes.


(UPDATE: I've been informed that the illustration for this piece was done by the incredible Jim Flora.)

Parade Magazine
January 4, 1959

All over the world and on the colonies in outer space, everyone is excited about the most popular event of the year. All human activity stops as people breathlessly await the outcome of the world's championship tiddlywinks contest.

 

In this world of the future mankind has little else to be excited about. For earth has been transformed into a "paradise" where incredibly clever robots take care of things. They do the farming, the factory work, run the trains, regulate traffic, enforce the law, cook the meals, clean the houses and distribute a vast wealth of goods and services to which every human being is entitled - merely by being alive.

Almost nothing familiar on earth today will survive in this robotized world of the future. For instance:

  • Only a privileged few will have the right to work at a job.
  • The dream of youngsters will not be to grow up rich and successful, but to be one of the favored few workers.
  • Juvenile delinquency will take the form of vandalism against robots.
  • Everyone wil aspire for some kind of "blue ribbon" for an amateur activity, hobby or sport - possibly an award for the best ship model built out of matchsticks or the most colorful rock garden in town.
  • Heroes and celebrities will be the persons who devise new parlor games.
Withering Family Life
  • Mankind's major struggle will be against boredom, with the suicide rate zooming as people lose the race.
  • Governments and family life will wither away. Public officials will be replaced by Board of Supervisors to "umpire" games, sports and recreation, and also administer competitive exams which would decide who could work at the few essential jobs left for human beings to do.
Fantastic? Certainly, by our everyday standards of progress. But every one of these dizzying pictures of life in the future could conceivably become real - when and if man creates robots to do his work for him.

 

Man's mastery of science and technology is advancing by tremendous leaps and bounds. One of his major goals ever since the caveman harnessed an ox to a primitive plow, has been to make something else replace human muscle power. The ultimate "something else" is the robot that acts and thinks like a man.

For the robot-powered society described here, Parade enlisted the fertile imagination and scientific knowledge of Isaac Asimov, an associate professor of bio-chemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine and a writer of science-fiction stories, including a series on robots.

Awful to Face

Wondrous as Asmiov's robotized world of the future may seem, the man who dreamed it up wants no part of it. Says Asimov, "I'll be glad that I will have long since been dead rather than face life in such a society!"

In the transportation systems of the future, electronically guided robots will be the bus and truck drivers. There may be robots that can repair TV sets, fix the plumbing, run IBM machines, act as traffic policemen, read galley proofs, serve as "information" attendants at railway stations.

"In theory," says Asimov, "there is no reason why any human job cannot be done by a machine if we can invent a robot brain as complex and as small as the human brain. Under such circumstances, there is no reason why a robot couldn't mentally be capable of doing anything a human can.

"But who will need man then? Man will die off of simple boredom and frustration." The reason, Asimov points out, is that comparatively few people can be usefully creative.

Consider the Joneses, who in a robotized world, have lost their usefulness:

Mr. and Mrs. Jones would have it easy. Their robot butler would awaken them gently, serve them breakfast in bed and wheel away and wash the dirty dishes. The robot valet and maid would choose the day's attire and dress them.

"Free" for the day, Mr. and Mrs. Jones must decide what to do. Mrs. Jones doesn't have the drudgery of housekeeping. Mr. Jones has no job to go to, since robots are doing nearly all the work. Of course, he could spend the day tinkering with his sailboat, although he knows a robot could tune u p the auxiliary engine more efficiently. Mrs. Jones may decide to work in the garden. Her robot could do this better, but she jealously guards this privilege.

Some people - the "aristocracy" in this strange robot society - would be entitled to work.


See also:
Closer Than We Think! Robot Housemaid (1959)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957-1967)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957)
Call a Serviceman (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
The Electronic Brain Made Beef Stew (1959)
Something must be wrong with its radar eye! (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
Frigidaire Kitchen of the Future (1957)
Monsanto House of the Future Brochure (1961)
How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D. (1950)

 

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Reader Comments (9)

Hilarious illustration :) I think Mom looks horrified because Baby is being seasoned before being popped in the pot.

May 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErica

Being a big fan of Asimov, I can't remember reading anything he's written as being so dystopian. He was always worried about the future of man, to be sure, but such negativity was rare, at least for his works that I possess, which is considerable.

May 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdeven-science

http://flickr.com/photos/riv/2509523270/

Sorry, I couldn't resist :p

May 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterriv

Interesting find. It should be noted that the illustrator is the great iconoclast http://www.jimflora.com" REL="nofollow">Jim Flora. He always had a wonderful sense of humor in his artwork.

May 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWard Jenkins

Yeah yeah, but was Howard Huge still huge? Damn, that's a big dog!

May 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Woohoo! I am among the privileged people with a real job! To heck with you and your robots!

May 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAllen's Brain

Very interesting indeed. Thank you.

May 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGlenda Shaw Garlock

For those who enjoy and have the ability to swim and fly in their intellects and mentally explore the Cosmos, having machines do all the drudge work for you is a wonderful idea.

But what happens to the millions who are not blessed with intellects? Who think that NASCAR, beer, and sex are all one needs in life?

One thing not anticipated by Asimov in the 1950s: Virtual reality. Maybe we will all go live in artificial worlds of our own making, doing whatever we want for the rest of our lives.

This may also explain the lack of detection from SETI: The advanced ones are hooked up to VR machines and couldn't care less about exploring or contacting other species.

If you lived in a perfect fantasy world where you could do anything you want, would you ever want to go back to the so-called real world?

Now we have Spore coming out, where people can make their own life forms and explore other planets with life created by other users. Who needs real aliens, who continue to fail to contact us.

The VR degredation of mankind has begun. Doesn't anybody remember the Talosians from Star Trek?

September 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

this sort of situation seems to come up a lot in science fiction and official predictions - our super-intelligent machines rendering us obsolete, or the entire human race abandoning physical existence entirely for virtual-reality simulations. Both scenarios strike me as the the victory of technology over mankind; i wonder if there would be a way for us to advance to a great degree without becoming obsolete or even extinct as a species?

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteraharfhbg

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