by Peter Franklin
Friday, 5
March 2021

Robots: the new Republican dividing line

The rivalry between tech-supporting libertarians and pro-job populists defines the party
by Peter Franklin
Will these two ‘pedestrians’ be able to coexist? Credit: Starship

Some new technologies are forever ‘ten years away’ until, that is, they suddenly arrive. That’s how it was with mobile phones and flat screen TVs: an expensive niche product went mainstream within the space of a very few years, changing our lives forever.

Driverless vehicles are still stuck in ten-years-away mode, but their time is coming. The revolution is likely to start not on the road, but on the pavement — with delivery robots. According to a report for Axios by Jennifer A Kingson, it’s beginning to get political:

“States like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Idaho, Florida and Wisconsin have passed what are considered to be liberal rules permitting robots to operate on sidewalks — prompting pushback from cities like Pittsburgh that fear mishaps.”
- Jennifer A Kingson, Axios

You may have seen these robots being tested in your town or city already — they’re basically a box on wheels and roughly knee-high. However, what’s a novelty now may become a nuisance. Imagine hundreds of the things whizzing around on the one remaining part of the streetscape reserved for pedestrians. Above you, imagine a sky full of buzzing — and, on occasion, crashing — aerial drones.

Among those unhappy at the prospect is Steve Hilton — who was once David Cameron’s right hand man, but more latterly a fixture at Fox News. He’s particularly outraged by the state legislatures that have legally classified the delivery robots as ‘pedestrians’.

I’d imagine he might find an ally in his fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson. In an interview with Ben Shapiro, Carlson expresses deep disquiet over the impact that driverless truck technology would have on truck drivers’ jobs. There are something like 3.5 million truck drivers in America — so full scale automation would have a devastating impact on livelihoods across the country, especially in communities already devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs to China.

Carlson doesn’t hesitate when asked whether he’d restrict the technology in order to artificially preserve jobs — he’d do it “in a second”. Presumably that means that as well as clamping down on driverless trucks, he’d also target the delivery robots that would bridge the gap between the distribution centre and the home.

What we have here is the makings of a new political divide: Tech-supporting liberals and libertarians versus the pro-job populists of the Trump-haunted Republican Party.

But is this over-cooking it? Will the sheer convenience of the robotised future overcome popular resistance? Just look at the way that the western electorates consented to the offshoring of all those manufacturing jobs. Voters might not have liked de-industrialisation, but our mouths were stuffed with cheap Chinese imports.

Except that a populist backlash did eventually occur, concentrated in the worst-affected parts of each country. In any case, the next wave of disruption — i.e. focused on automation as opposed to offshoring — is going to have a much wider impact: literally bringing the brave new world to your door.

The creators of these new technologies had better watch their step. The more obnoxious their new creations, the bigger the coalition for their prohibition.

Join the discussion

  • The Left is 100% anti job! In USA I work in construction and the open border for unskilled workers since the 1980s utterly destroyed the class of American unskilled workers. You almost never see a White guy on a roof crew or framing crew, most are unskilled migrants sleeping many to a house with almost zero costs and destroying the pay in the industry.

    The entire goal of the Left is all on UI, all made to be sheep dependent on the shepherd and fallowing the tame bellwether.

  • If the Repubs are pro-job, then the left becomes anti-job, which is curious considering the left’s push for a higher minimum wage

    Yep, that’s correct. The left is pro-dole and anti-job these days, regarding the nonworking underclass as the ‘deserving’ proletariat, and the workers as the privileged ‘bourgeoisie’ leeching on the poor, poor underclass. The push for higher minimum wage is just a transitional rhetoric, to achieve the ultimate goal of UBI.
    As i recall the AOC-penned “New Green Deal” (or whatsitscalled) pushed for paycheques for those who choose not to work at all.

  • Sadly, I think you’re right about the Catch 22 between the on-going job losses to tech but the disadvantage a nation will experience if it refuses to keep up with technology.
    Medical AI currently exists (at the development stage) that is 96% as accurate as an experienced physician at diagnosing disease. How long before many physicians find themselves obsolete? Currently, much prostate surgery is done by a surgeon guiding robotic arms. How long before a machine is developed that can perform the surgery without the surgeon?
    Not so long ago, it was just assumed that a licensed physician diagnosed disease and prescribed treatment. When the number of doctors becoming primary care physicians dwindled, ‘nurse practitioners’ were allowed to provide primary medical care in the US. Since the pandemic, many of us have become used to telehealth where we speak to a physician we’ve never met on the phone. This system is used to manage even complex medical conditions such as heart disease. The physician’s role dwindles year by year.
    The outstanding question is, when so many good-paying jobs are gone, who is left to pay for services provided by all this fancy technology?

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