Half century of robotAn unfamiliar-looking machine that weighed up to 1.2 tons was installed on an assembly line at a General Motors located in Trenton, New Jersey back in 1959. It was the first industrial robot named Unimate #001, conceived and designed by two engineers, George Devol and Joseph Engelberger.
When the robot arm began transporting parts from here to there, laborers hailed with joy and excitement. Thanks to the robot arm, no one would get hurt by moving hefty parts and doing dangerous jobs.
The public opinion over the first ever industrial robot was favorable, too.
Unimate 1900, the first mass produced robot, made an appearance on NBC’s “Tonight Show” in 1966 and did tricks such as putting a golf ball into a cup or pouring beer. The robot also pretended to lead a band as it moved its arms up and down. The robot made viewers’ jaws drop.
But the craze over robots didn’t last long, with the advent of artificial intelligence robots. People were concerned about their increasing presence.
With AI robots, the production of GM has doubled. Not only the auto industry but other industries brought on AI robots and the robots have deprived workplaces of thousands of employees.
Carlos Menem, the former president of Argentina, even said in 1994 that robots should pay taxes. He said companies which install high-tech machinery are increasing unemployment rates thus they should pay robot taxes so that the taxes could be used for unemployment benefits and job training. His comments made headlines in newspapers all around the world.
But now the robot taxes, first mentioned by Menem, are taken seriously by leading nations including the United States and the European Union.
Collecting robot taxes is one of the pledges of Benoit Hamon, a presidential candidate of the ruling party in France.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, joined the bandwagon and said robots should pay taxes if they take the jobs of humans.
The European Parliament is against collecting robot taxes but has reached the conclusion that there needs to be discussions over what the ethical standards are when using robots and their legal status.
Some even go as far as to say that robots should be classified as electronic humans.
The economic and social changes brought on by robots are important issues to many countries.
Korea, which has the second largest number of industrial robots after China, is no exception.
Kim Se-yeon of the Bareun party mentioned the possibility of imposing taxes on machinery during a forum held last year.
Robot comes from an old Czech word meaning forced labor or slave. Unlike their original meaning, robots surely have changed the world over the past half century.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 21, Page 31
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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