Kevin Kelly's 7 Stages of Robot Replacement

The 7 Stages of Robot Replacement

1) A robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do.
2) OK, it can do a lot, but it can't do everything I do.
3) OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
4) OK, it operates without failure, but I need to train it for new tasks.
5) Whew, that was a job that no human was meant to do, but what about me?
6) My new job is more fun and pays more now that robots/computers are doing my old job.
7) I am so glad a robot cannot possibly do what I do.

From Kevin's blog, The Technium (Via Chris Anderson)


  1. Though at some point steps 6 and 7 turn into:
    6. My new job pays almost nothing because robots are so cheap.
    7. It’s too bad that there are many more people than jobs that robots cannot do better than humans. / It’s too bad that I am not  capable of doing any job that a robot cannot do better.

    1. If a robot can create wealth (by performing your job) but does not need to be paid, then unemployment is only a problem if we don’t allow the workforce to benefit from their replacement… which we almost certainly would not, since the up-front cost of a robot is so much more than that of a worker (as is the case with modern-day machines that reduce manual labor). 

      That said, there is one job that will always remain available and profitable during this cycle: designing robots.  Once robots can do that by themselves, we’ll have much bigger problems than unemployment.

  2. There also seems to be some sort of “Robots vs. Trained Monkeys” sub-context going on on that comic book cover.  The humans are always playing those two groups off against each other.

  3. Yeah, robots would be great, hopefully like the ones in “Ice Pirates”, ‘cept they’ll prolly turn out like “FondlyFahrenheit”.

  4. I’m trained for a job that will be quite some time before it’s replaceable by robots – a scientist (geologist in my case). But I still can’t find a job. I’m going to take this opportunity to blame robots anyway.

  5. I think the coming robo invasion has some many possible angles it is hard to define what the outcome really will be.

    I really wonder if at some point when we have sentient robots, will they build other robots to do their basic labor for them as well?

  6. At some point you start to wonder when this increase in automation will trigger a transition to a more Star Trek like society.

    And how bloody a revolution that transition needs to be.

  7. Deliciously insane artwork, want to print that photo out and hug it.
    Didn’t Doctor Who recent teach us you can simply kill evil robots with the power of love? Tsk, tsk.

    Disclaimer: I make robots, the decorative kind that like to stand around, not the skynet kind.

  8. “Not Brand Echh” had “Magnut, Robot Biter”. I loved Magnus, it was kinda loopy. My favorite robots, tho, are the Solenoid Robots from Roger Ramjet.

  9. First off, I had no idea that Magnus, Robot Fighter was a series. I stumbled on a cover of our handsome hero karate chopping off the chrome dome of a dastardly droid and was ready to give the what-for to all my appliances. Discovering that he continues to wield his fists on our behalf, and that of our allies, the gorillas, fire my spirits once again. Though apparently in 4000AD, the robots are restricted to some kind of legacy platform that insists on foil-gauge armor, or two thousand years of biotech has given Magnus a seriously badass right hook.

    As for this list- it’s true, and it’s a fact I remind people of every time they panic about outsourcing, or automation, or whatever. The person that worked at Blockbuster and got replaced by Netflix doesn’t die in the store- (s)he does something more exciting than working at Blockbuster. The question, though, is whether it will always be true. When real wages haven’t climbed in 35 years and the return to full unemployment after a downturn trails the return to full productivity by more and more time, some observers have suggested that retooling businesses are finding it easier with every passing year to replace a person in a job and harder and harder for the market to find things to do with labor. If human needs are satiable (and they seem to be, and we hope they are, for the sake of the beleagured environment) and if eventually the production of one man-life of health, wealth, and comfort takes less than one-man-life of labor, it’s easy to imagine that instead of marching obediently down the supply and demand curves to post-scarcity happy land, the market has a sort of existential divide-by-zero dilemma where it doesn’t know how to give free goods to people that have no money. Take any city where a bank has evicted a tenant, followed by the house rotting away from lack of care or being bulldozed to raise prices, instead of the bank simply renting it for a lower sum to its inhabitants, and I, at least, get a whiff of how it could happen.

    That being said, I like robots and dislike Luddism. I just worry in the night sometimes.

  10. 1) Being a wage-earning employee, I derive no economic benefit from the increased efficiency of my former employer. But now that my old job at the cereal factory is automated, the price of the cereal I get for my kids went down $.01 a box!

    2) Oh wait, profit margins! The price just went up anyway!

    3) At least now I can find a new job, as long as it uses the experience I have from doing that thing I did that the robots do now!

    1. Stage six has happened several times, actually. Have you ever met someone who welds parts of new cars together for a living? Or spray paints them? Those jobs were largely taken over by robots by the seventies. Likewise the sorting of muffins with pick and place.

      Let us also remind ourselves that while mechanical calculators (prior to the existence of electronic calculators) took away the jobs of human calculators, and Hollerith’s punchcard-based tabulating machines took away the jobs of human tabulators, people who do arithmetic all day are fairly well equipped to perform some other task, and human tabulators can get paid more doing less in the domain of data entry.

  11. And then Benny Magnus discovers that he has been a pawn of north AM, who had acquired sentience long ago and was secretly trying to wipe out all life on earth…except his…

  12. Here Magnus is wearing boots more like combat boots instead of  his white go-go boots. His effort to look more butch is foiled by his trademark red tunic that he apparently grabbed from his little sister’s closet.

    As always, Magnus is executing one of his trademark robot decapitation moves. You would have thought that some evil robot maker would have put the robot brain in the torso, and while Magnus is karate chopping off its head, a harpoon gun in the robot’s chest will go off all like “BLAM!”

  13. 8: ‘Wow, these new Replicant Love Droids are So Realistic..’
    9: ‘the Cyber-Sexual Revolution is like the greatest thing Ever!’
    10: ‘I’m totally gonna marry my Robot Bride, and best of all: my Cyberdyne stock is going through the roof!’
    11:’Honey; why are your eyes turning red?  What are those pointy, sparking things coming out your mouth…Uh Oh…’

    There will be no number 12.

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  15. I haven’t seen an issue of Magus: Robot Fighter since I was little kid; I sort of dread to wonder if it was actually as good as I thought it was at the time. If it was? Then it DEFINITELY needs a movie adaptation. The premise: all humans live a life of leisure, because sentient robots are incapable of resenting the fact that they do all the work and take all the risks. The first robot to accidentally develop free will thinks about it, decides that he likes human beings anyway, realizes that lazy humans have no defenses against robot aggression, and that some day, another free-will robot will happen, and that time humans may not get lucky enough to have it be one who decides that he likes us. So he kidnaps? adopts? I forget this part, somehow acquires a human infant and trains him, from birth, to be the ultimate martial arts killing machine, just in case a robot uprising happens. And he guessed right; the next free-will robot develops a software virus that can infect other robots with free will AND with his resentment of humans, and it falls to Magnus: Robot Fighter to try to contain the infection. I remember the writers eventually writing themselves into a corner, though; eventually, either Magnus has to defeat the virus, or the virus will escape to more robots than he can fight. I don’t remember what they did about that, but I remember not liking it. But the early issues, when humans are getting injured by robots that look like they’re doing it on purpose, but “everybody knows” it can’t possibly be on purpose, and where everybody’s at least as scared of this guy with the lethal hands as they are of the malfunctioning robots? I remember that as being the best SF in comics at the time.

    I just wish I knew whether or not to trust my memory about this.

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