It looks like our automated creations are beginning to get the best of their meatbag overlords. Two studies show that automated labor is increasingly taking over middle-class jobs and that babies will regard humanoid robots as sentient beings.

First off, a recent paper by economists David Autor and David Dorn notes that automated labor has played a large part in polarizing American income over the last several years. Thanks to the replacement of mid-range jobs (like manufacturing) with automated labor, the workforce is increasingly being divided into low-income, low-training employment (manual labor like lawn work) and high-income, training-intensive positions (lawyers).


Additionally, technology is allowing the off-shoring of once-domestic middle-class jobs (like call centers), and future personal robotics technology has the potential to edge out low-income labor. We're nowhere near Rosie the Robot, but we do have mechanical men doing beer runs. You can read more about the implications of Autor and Dorn's research in GOOD.

Also, a study conducted by Andrew Meltzoff, Rechele Brooks, and Rajesh Rao of the University of Washington indicates that babies regard a robot as a sentient being if they witness others interacting with the robot. Despite Morphy the robot's tiny, boxy appearance, the babies who saw adults interacting with Morphy were more likely to pay attention to the robot's shifting gaze. It is worth noting that the adults' interactions reinforced that Morphy had body parts akin to humans. Here was the study's methodology:

During the experiment, an 18-month-old baby sat on its parent's lap facing Rechele Brooks, a UW research assistant professor and a co-author of the study. Sixty-four babies participated in the study, and they were tested individually. They played with toys for a few minutes, getting used to the experimental setting. Once the babies were comfortable, Brooks removed a barrier that had hidden a metallic humanoid robot with arms, legs, a torso and a cube-shaped head containing camera lenses for eyes. The robot — controlled by a researcher hidden from the baby — waved, and Brooks said, "Oh, hi! That's our robot!"

Following a script, Brooks asked the robot, named Morphy, if it wanted to play, and then led it through a game. She would ask, "Where is your tummy?" and "Where is your head?" and the robot pointed to its torso and its head. Then Brooks demonstrated arm movements and Morphy imitated. The babies looked back and forth as if at a ping pong match, Brooks said.

At the end of the 90-second script, Brooks excused herself from the room. The researchers then measured whether the baby thought the robot was more than its metal parts.

The robot beeped and shifted its head slightly — enough of a rousing to capture the babies' attention. The robot turned its head to look at a toy next to the table where the baby sat on the parent's lap. Most babies — 13 out of 16 — who had watched the robot play with Brooks followed the robot's gaze. In a control group of babies who had been familiarized with the robot but had not seen Morphy engage in games, only three of 16 turned to where the robot was looking.


So yeah, it looks like the first wave of the robot uprising won't be skull-headed killbots — the initial deployment will be adorable cyber-dwarf saboteurs, whose adorable, belly-pointing antics will win the hearts and minds of the youth.

[Via Popular Science and The University of Washington. Middle photo via University of Washington.]


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