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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 9th December 2016 > AYE, ROBOT

AYE, ROBOT

ALL THOSE DIRE PREDICTIONS ABOUT THE AUTOMATED ECONOMY SOUND LIKE A SCI-FI HORROR FILM FROM THE ’50S: ROBOTS ARE COMING TO TAKE YOUR JOBS, YOUR HOMES, YOUR CHILDREN. EXCEPT IT’S REAL. AND IT HAS A HAPPY ENDING
WHAT HATH GAS WROUGHT? The automated gas pump killed a lot of (bad) jobs and created many new jobs for more skilled workers.
TAIT SIMPSON/GALLERY STOCK; PREVIOUS SPREAD: OCIACIA

NEXT TIME you stop for gas at a self-serve pump, say hello to the robot in front of you. Its life story can tell you a lot about the robot economy roaring toward us like an EF5 tornado on the prairie.

Yeah, your automated gas pump killed a lot of jobs over the years, but its biography might give you hope that the coming wave of automation driven by artificial intelligence (AI) will turn out better for almost all of us than a lot of people seem to think.

The first crude version of an automated gasdelivering robot appeared in 1964 at a station in Westminster, Colorado. Short Stop convenience store owner John Roscoe bought an electric box that let a clerk inside activate any of the pumps outside. Self-serve pumps didn’t catch on until the 1970s, when pump-makers added automation that let customers pay at the pump, and over the next 30 years, stations across the nation installed these task-specific robots and fired attendants. By the 2000s, the gas attendant job had all but disappeared. (Two states, New Jersey and Oregon, protect full-service gas by law.)

That’s hundreds of thousands of jobs vaporized—there are now 168,000 gas stations in the U.S. The loss of those jobs was undoubtedly devastating for the individuals who had them, but the broader impact has been pretty positive for the rest of us.

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THE ROBOT ECONOMY Next time you stop for gas at a self-serve pump, say hello to the robot in front of you. Its life story can tell you a lot about the robot economy roaring toward us like an EF5 tornado on the prairie. Yeah, your automated gas pump killed a lot of jobs over the years, but its biography might give you hope that the coming wave of automation driven by artificial intelligence (AI) will turn out better for almost all of us than a lot of people seem to think.
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