By Oscar Hernandez 

College of Public Service and Community Solutions Senator 

oeherna2@asu.edu

Lately minimum wage has been a topic of discussion at everyone’s dinner table. Multiple activist groups nationwide continue to fight for an increase in minimum wage. They claim that our current national minimum wage, $7.25/hr, is not sufficient for a family to financially support themselves and depend on. Those who oppose this initiative claim that raising wages for “unskilled” labor will harm our communities. A $15 minimum wage for example will raise prices hurting local businesses, disincentivize people from pursuing higher education and promote robots taking our jobs. Personally, I think both sides are correct, but both fail to find common ground in order to compromise to a solution.

In our very own state, residents voted in favor of Proposition 206 raising our state minimum wage to $10 and through increments of 50 cents reach $12 by 2020. It is evident that most people are in favor of families earning enough to put a roof over their heads and to come back home to a warm meal. However, because debating and politics get in the way we tend to forget the fact that one day all workers will be replaced by a robot. We live in a capitalistic society where businesses’ number one goal is to make profit, and a long term method of profiting is to remove the human factor out of business. Yes, robots will first come and replace fast food workers, as we can already tell, but technology will continue to be improved until one day some of our best doctors and programmers will be robots.

If this is the case, and if the replacement of all workers by robots is unquestionable, will our government have to lawfully protect these robots in any way? I know this sounds like an odd question, especially if you perceive robots as inanimate objects. But what if robots could learn to understand more than just to flip patties? What if someday we live in society where robot rights are needed?

Think about it, future lawyers might end up dealing with cases questioning what rights these heartless, brainless robots have. More importantly, how will Artificial Intelligence (AI) impact the way we look at robots. If you are not aware what AI is, google defines it as “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.” AI is coded for a machine to learn to become a human, or at least to be perceived as one.  If a robot learns to act like a human, I think at some point it will develop something similar to our conscience to better imitate a human being. A robot’s conscience wouldn’t be like ours,  theirs would probably depend on algorithms that can simulate thinking on a superficial level, where they can utilize sensors to detect some type of stimuli to interpret into sensations. At this point, if robots can develop some version of a conscience, then aren’t they somewhat human? After all, having a conscience is what differentiates us humans from animals who can’t seem to ponder, feel, and express to the extent we do, yet they still have rights which protect them.

Lets just assume a big supreme court case has identified robots as subhumans and are entitled to some lawful protection, what kind of policies will then be introduced? If robots take over our workforce, wouldn’t robots be then seen as more valuable over humans who are now jobless? Can robots be utilized to kill human beings from countries which are not as developed as the US and have a technological disadvantage? Could robots, through their human interactions, learn to be racist, have prejudices or realize they are intellectually superior than humans? Can robots be a risk for a business’ privacy if they can audio and video record their surroundings and can the government have access to these recordings? Or simple enough, if robots are considered subhuman and are being bought and sold by businesses, wouldn’t this be considered slavery?

I think the most fascinating aspect of this topic is the number of possibilities there are. I can only hope to live long enough to witness some of these changes and hope to see what the courts will decide. I know all of the things I mentioned above sound like they are straight out of the script of I,Robot. Nonetheless, some of the speculations I made are already happening today, and it is important that our schools initiate conversations on these possible changes to our workforce and society to better prepare us for it.

Next time the minimum wage discussion comes up and you are told robots will take over our jobs, remind them there is nothing we can do to stop that. Robots are our future and their continued annexation to our lives will develop laws we cannot foresee. For now, the best we can do is appreciate what our computers and phones do for us before they dictate what kind of careers we can have.

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