It’s always a bit of a thrill when a new issue of The New Yorker arrives. I’ve often composed letters to the editor in my head, without actually writing or sending any. I thought it’d be fun to finally capitulate to the urge.
Here’s what I sent in response to an October 23 issue article about robots and automation:
While the prospect of the “Dark Factory” does promise energy and space efficiencies that could, particularly with renewables, provide environmental benefits, the utopian aspects of maximized technology quickly wane once confronted with the human condition. Supposing robots do wholly automate the manufacturing and delivery of all our factory-made things? What are the fruits of our non-labor? If nothing more than ever lower prices on the disposable wares mass produced for our idle hands, there is little to recommend such a course as answering to our existential need to lead lives of purpose and meaning. There seems to be little discussion of how the consumerist lifestyle itself is precursor to “deaths of despair.” With robots running the industrial presses just fine without us, humans are useful primarily as “meat robots” with the power to buy and consume.
Still, Winnie the robot failed to deftly pick the petals of an artificial flower. Perhaps the unpredictable intricacy of natural growth will ascend as the final frontier for uniquely human work. Maybe the robots can help manufacture something useful out of the plastic refuse already overrunning the planet, while we humans rediscover the necessity of hands able to literally plant the seeds of ecological restoration. Or, we can just keep feeding the machines with all the oil and natural resources required to continually supply us with our convenient trash, 24/7.