Stop saying "robots are coming for your job"; start saying "Your boss wants to replace you with a robot"

Tech reporter and sf writer Brian Merchant (previously) calls our attention to the peculiar construction of the problem statement in articles about automation and obsolescence, in which "robots are coming to steal your job."

The thing is robots don't (yet) autonomously arrange to show up at your workplace, uninvited, and take your job. Instead, your boss entertains sales calls (or solicits them!) from companies who want to see your work replaced with a robot, and then your boss makes a decision about whether that replacement will come with an equitable sharing of the fruits of automation (shorter hours and higher pay all around!) or whether they will be hoarded by the forces of capital ("sorry, the robot stole your job, nothing I can do about it").

The particular, passive, third-person construction ("your job has been stolen by a robot") is a potent deflector shield for blame and class-based rage, but it's hard to believe that it will be powerful enough to fight off the (inevitable) guillotines.

Only a little more convincing is the related premise: "I bought a robot to do your job because the shareholders made me" (and the less-heard, equally thin, "I voted my shares to hire a boss who would give your job to a robot because if I wasn't rich, I would be poor and then a robot would take my job").

There is an artificial lifeform behind all this: the slow AIs of limited liability companies, who use us weak humans as inconvenient gut flora.

Because even the most ardent robot lovers will agree, there are plenty of cases of badly deployed automation; systems that make our lives worse and more inefficient, and that kill jobs en route to worse outcomes. (I call this shitty automation, and from where I’m sitting, it’s abundant.) And such automated regression is often implemented under the logic of ‘robots are coming,’ so better hop aboard. We will be able to make better decisions about embracing effective automation if we understand that, in practice, ‘the robots are coming for our jobs’ usually means something more like ‘a CEO wants to cut his operating budget by 15 percent and was just pitched on enterprise software that promises to do the work currently done by thirty employees in accounts payable.’

‘Robots’ Are Not 'Coming for Your Job'—Management Is [Brian Merchan/Gizmodo]

(via /.)