These days, when I wake in the night, my wife is invariably up, sitting in a chair at the side of the bed, breastfeeding our son. I make tea and say how lovely they look. And then, I usually drift back to sleep or reach for my book to stay awake in an act of silent solidarity. There is not much more that I can do.
My bedside reading is about robots. And it’s probably not a great idea to have it at the side of the bed because it has been nightmare-inducing. I have luddite sympathies and an instinctive distrust of technological innovation, so I don’t get some geeky thrill at the idea of robots taking over the world, taking our jobs and forcing human beings into obsolescence. (...)The stories you need to read, in one handy email
Just wait to see what robotics and artificial intelligence technologies will do to the employment prospects of the human race. Donald Trump tells the US working class that China and Mexico are stealing their jobs. But they’re not: it’s robots. (...)
What jobs will be left? What jobs could metal and software never do? These were my night worries, churning round in my head. And then it struck me that the answer was quite possibly before me. Could you ever imagine a robot breastfeeding a child? Oh, I’m sure some idiot could come up with a humanoid with an artificial breast that lactated formula milk. But that is only one part of what’s going on at the side of the bed. As well as feeding, the mother is communicating a plethora of unconscious messages about being loved and feeling safe. And in getting up in the middle of the night, sleep-deprived and exhausted, she is putting herself out for our son in a way that a robot never could.
Yes, a robot could be there for the child, obviously – but not be there exhausted. And thus it couldn’t exhibit the love that overcomes exhaustion. In other words, what the second machine age could well do is bring to the fore the moral, spiritual and emotional aspects of being human. When the robots have taken all the hands and head jobs, we will be reminded again of the centrality of the heart.