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VARIOUS TEXTS: ROBOTS, SOCIETY AND THE FUTURE

The following text could be used as a 'Klausur' in a Grundkurs which deals with the topic of science fiction.

We are now at the beginning of the age of robots. The robots that now exist are by no means the seeing, speaking, thinking humanoid objects that we find in science fiction.So far they are only computerized levers equipped to do a particular single task over and over. Though they will rapidly be more complex, versatile and able, they have a long time to go before they even appear to be human beings.
Apart from taking on dangerous tasks, which human beings would much prefer to avoid, robots can do work which is so repetitive and dull that it stultifies and debases any human mind that must engage in it for long periods of time. This is the kind of work robots can even do more reliably and correctly. As a result human beings, liberated from such subhuman work, will be free to turn to more creative endeavours.
And yet, before we grow too happy over this prospect, let us remember that to be 'liberated from an undesirable job' might well be translated into 'thrown out of work'. A job might seem undesirable to someone viewing it from outside, but to the person working at it, it is a livelihood. The robot brings with it the threat of technological unemployment and, with that, the loss of economic security and the disappearance of self-respect.
One might argue that technological advance produces many more jobs than it destroys. The coming of the automobile put a number of blacksmiths out of business. It craeted, however, a far greater number of automobile-related jobs and vastly expanded and broadened the need for gasoline, rubber and highways.There will be more work, more jobs by far, in a robotized society than in a nonrobotized one.
Nevertheless, this is an overall, long-range viewpoint that does not take into account the individual tragedies that take place while society slowly settles into some new mode. When one job disappears, a new job may not have appeared, or most likely, may be totally different in narure. An assembly-line worker, who has been tightening bolts, cannot simply abandon his work and at a moment's notice take a new job and become, say, a robot repairman.
The jobs that are lost to robots are precisely those mechanical, repetitive, noncreative ones that a robot can do. The new jobs will require considerable specialized knowledge and power of thought - or they will be lost to robots, too. What's more, technological change has been steadily accelerating over the millennia of human history so that the dislocation produced by the 'robot revolution' will come upon us much more rapidly and over a far greater portion of the world than similar dislocations such as those of the Industrial Revolution in its beginnings two centuries ago. Clearly, we cannot wait for these dislocations to heal themselves.
If society is to be kept stable, there must be serious efforts to minimize the pain and trauma of the transition period. With a proper revolution on education, a new generation should arise that will fit into a computerized and robotized world, one that will from childhood be trained into creativity to do the kind of work robots cannot do.
530 words

Annotations:
humanoid - human-like
lever - Hebel
versatile - performing variuous tasks
to stultify - to deaden, opp. of to stimulate
to debase - to degrade
endeavours - tasks
bolt - Schraube
to abandon - to give up
at a moment's notice - with no advance warning
dislocation - Verdrängung

Possible assignments:
1. Summarize the text in your own words (no more than 170 words).
2. Describe a humanoid robot as presented in one of the SF stories you have read and say if you would like such a robot become reality.
3. What text type is this, point out its typical features, and say where you would expect such a text to be published.
4. Discuss the value of paid work. Do people only work for the money's sake? Substantiate your opinion.
5. As to the last paragraph, do you have the feeling as if the proper revolution is taking place?

Quelle: Summit, Grundkurs/Leistungskurs Englisch, Schöningh Verlag 1992.
Text stammt von Isaac Asimov, Dialogue 1, 1985


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