(Creators) -- In South Africa, people who speak Afrikaans use the word "robot" to mean the same thing it means in English. But it is also the word for "traffic light." Why? Before automated signals, motorists on busy streets were directed by police officers standing on platforms. Those cops were automated out of a job.
This bit of trivia comes from the dazzling new book Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, by University of Illinois at Chicago economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey. She points out that automation and robots are nothing new, that they are crucial to raising living standards and that the jobs they destroy are always replaced by better ones.
Today, cars are built partly by robots, which reduce the need for human workers. Notes McCloskey, "Compared with horses, cars themselves are 'robots.' Yet the advent of cars did not produce mass unemployment because of insufficient demand for the output of blacksmiths and horse traders."
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