It was the '80s. Robocop was in theaters and my high school history teacher was obsessed with Japan. Not the Japan of sushi, Shinto, or Kurosawa; rather, his particular fascination was Japanese robots. In particular, he was convinced that Japan was making robotic creatures that would eliminate all need for human labor. Robots, he proclaimed, kill jobs.
"On the bright side," he said, "someone needs to make the robots."
"On the down side," I thought, "I'm learning history from a robot-fearing xenophobe."
If you're old enough to remember Michael Keaton in Gung Ho, you probably recall this brief period in American pop consciousness in which Japanese robotics were nearly as scary as Russian nukes. That fear subsided with the onset of crippling Japanese recession, but a new genre of robotic paranoia has resurfaced in recent years.
If you saw 60 Minutes on Sunday (you didn't; you were watching either an NFL playoff game, the Golden Globes, or the season premiere of Girls), then the story "Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?" probably jumped out at you like Gaius Baltar fleeing a cyclon.
To be fair, 60 Minutes' take is nuanced, at times suggesting that robots might actually bring back manufacturing jobs to America, though in fewer numbers than left. But all I could hear was my jingoistic history teacher in my ear, replacing every instance of "Japan" with "China."
I suggest watching for yourself to see if the hysteria is warranted, but be certain of this: Robots are having a moment!
I personally wasn't worried by any of this until the clip of robots performing "Ace of Spades" (embedded above) went viral a couple weeks ago.
If robots can proficiently play Motorhead, then my high school teacher was right. We are doomed.