"There is only one condition in which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates and masters not needing slaves. This would be if every machine could work by itself, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation."As technology advances, robots become more complex and more capable of doing a greater variety of things - at a faster, better and more consistent rate than if a human were to perform the same task. When robots have achieved a level of capability that business owners buy them and replace their human employees, you have a Job-Stealing Robot. The Job-Stealing Robot does not need to necessarily be a robot; a piece of software or other type of machine may do the trick. The point is that artificial constructs are being built and are replacing the old workforce. Definitely Truth in Television: advances in computing, artificial intelligence, robotics have led to a lot of manual, analytical and office jobs being replaced or consolidated. Unless humans begin to augment themselves to match these machines' capabilities, there's little chance that man will dominate machine in an increasing amount of fields of competence. While technically this would allow humans to free themselves from monotone tedious labor as productivity increases, making people displaced by robots benefit from robot-made goods would require a major overhaul of the economy, necessitating political and social solutions, not merely technological. Many socio-political theorists and futurists do believe that, at some point before the middle of this century if technological progress is any indication, robots will indeed replace the vast majority of human jobs, effectively leading to a "Post-Capitalist" social order. While no one is quite sure of what exactly will that entail, this is bound to result in a net increase of humanity's prosperity - the question is whether everyone will be able to benefit from it or humanity would be divided into robot owners and everyone else. A plot that involves this will also involve someone hating the robot for the fact that they steal people's jobs - especially theirs. An application of Technology Marches On and subtrope of Man Versus Machine. Overlaps with Ludd Was Right. When someone fights against the Job-Stealing Robot, particularly when using questionable means, you're looking at an Evil Luddite. More often that not, due to the fact that humans tend to triumph or compromise with machines by story's end. Compare Undead Laborers for the fantasy counterpart.
open/close all folders
- There's an ad for Progressive insurance where spokeswoman Flo fears she'll be replaced by Flobot (who has since appeared with Flo and others in another ad).
Anime and Manga
- This is a pivotal plot point in Armitage III, due to the high employment rate of robots, on Mars. The human populace objects strongly, sometimes violently, to this and regularly hold public protests, to denounce robots and demand their jobs back.
- In fact, The War of Earthly Aggression stems from a particularly unusual example of this trope. Earth, having become a Lady Land, objects to the idea of Mars developing Ridiculously Human Robots that are capable of breeding with humans, thus stealing the "job" of pregnancy from human women. And incidentally ruining their power-base.
- A common theme in Judge Dredd stories is citizens struggling to cope with mass unemployment caused by nearly all jobs being performed by robots.
- The Simping Detective (a spinoff of Dredd) has an inversion. Zig is a janitor for a large company because it's cheaper to hire him than use robot janitors.
- This trope sets up the series American Flagg!. Actor Reuben Flagg, star of the hit TV show Mark Thrust: Sexus Ranger, gets replaced by his own Tromplographic™ Ink-Suit Actor duplicate. He then gets drafted into the real Rangers and sent to Chicago, which is where the story begins.
- I, Robot: This is yet another of many reasons for Will Smith's character to disdain robots. He invokes this when proposing a new slogan for a robotics company: "Shitting on the Little Guy".
- Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Bucket gets laid off from his job screwing in caps at a toothpaste factory after the Wonka candy bars contest causes an increase in toothpaste sales, letting the factory buy a machine. The factory later rehires him to repair and maintain the machine.
- According to The Matrix backstory, this is the reason humans started fighting the machines. Artificial Intelligence had evolved to a point where machines became better than humans at everything. Eventually, the humans started discriminating against the machines and kicked them out.
- In WarGames, the computer is used to replace human commanders in charge of missile silos. Leo McGarry glances significantly at the machine when he's being relieved by it. Although this isn't so much about lost jobs as it is about the increased risk of A Nuclear Error.
- In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, Bill & Ted get killed and replaced by "evil robot us'es" which look exactly like Bill & Ted, but are programmed to be evil in order to destroy Bill & Ted's reputation so they don't become awesome rock stars and turn the world to peace. They fight back by recruiting an alien genius who builds "good robot us'es" capable of destroying the evil ones, even though they look like they were cobbled together from random appliances (they were). They also make for great backup dancers.
- RoboCop is initially feared to be this by his fellow cops, but he eventually is accepted as a valuable comrade who just happens to be particularly tough with special abilities that can take on threats head on and draw fire from his fellows. To be fair, Murphy is the only one who manages to go through the transformation without being Driven to Suicide. In the 2014 reboot, Robocop is meant for much the same purpose, except the intent is to use him as a publicity tool so they can legalize the use of actual robots on US soil.
- A non-fiction book by Federico Pistono explaining technological unemployment is called Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK. Recently, it became available online for free, as a part of the author's decision to raise awareness of the issue and why it's likely to be a benefit in the long run.
- The novel Manna by Marshall Brain argues that robots would make efficient managers far faster than they would make efficient employees, creating a dystopia in which workers are still human but they are saddled with AI governing their every step. Of course, eventually advances in computer vision would allow for the creation of said robotic employees, causing the near full scale robotization of labor and the masses of resulting unemployed to be shunted into government provided housing that end up being little more than prison camps by the wealthy and powerful who are waiting for them to die out of sight.
- In Feet of Clay, Sgt Colon has a conversation with a wick-dipper who's been made redundant since the candle factory started employing a golem.
- Averted in Making Money by Moist's swift intervention. Adora Belle Dearheart ends up bringing four thousand golems from the lost city of Um (yes, that's its name) to Ankh-Morpork. While they really would be job-stealing robots to the point of bankrupting the city (because unlike humans, they don't spend money), Moist decides to put them to good use not actually doing work, but burying themselves in a safe place and becoming the basis for his new currency.
- The Caves of Steel has people becoming unemployed due to robots being introduced by the Spacers. It is revealed to be part of a plan to create large numbers of unemployed people who will become a new wave of settlers.
- In I, Robot, most of the later stories taking place in space because organized labor ban robots from being used on Earth from fear of competition. However, robots eventually develop to the point that telling them apart from humans is impossible.
- Comes up in Galaxy of Fear: The Doomsday Ship. It's a Star Wars book, so droids are everywhere, but it's noted that there are things they can't do which organic beings can. For one, droids are rarely able to exceed or surpass their programming; without extensive modification, most have trouble with things not closely related to what they're designed to handle. A prototype AI is being installed into a ship which is adaptable and can handle things its human crew does, to the resentment of its captain.
- The novel Invitation To The Game begins with young adults, freshly graduated from college, being relegated to a slum because robotic labor is more convenient. Two of the protagonists' friends got to go home to family businesses instead... only to arrive in the slum later because those were converting to robotic labor. Turns out the slum life is also to shape them into bands of True Companions for the titular Game, and the friends' family businesses were deliberately converted because this particular group was incomplete without those two friends.
- Kurt Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano is all about this, including the quintessential example of a character who invents the machine that can do his job, not realizing the company will fire him instead of rewarding him.
Live Action TV
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Brain Center at Whipple's". A callous business executive replaces all of his workers with machines, putting them out of work. At the end, he suffers karmic justice as he is replaced by Robbie the Robot.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Ultimate Computer", Starfleet decides it's a great idea for a computer to replace Kirk as captain of the Enterprise. The computer goes evil, of course.
- WKRP in Cincinnati:
- In Yet Another Christmas Carol episode, Mr. Carlson is taken to the future, where he has replaced everyone at the station with computers except Herb (the sales manager).
- When another radio station tries to hire Venus away from WKRP, he learns that the entire station is automated; he'd be the Token Human on the air.
- An episode of Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue features a scientist introducing a group of Robot Rangers. This leads to the Lightspeed Rangers out of work...until the robots malfunction.
- Total Recall 2070 had an episode about it, which mentions official regulations such as at least X% of workers being human.
- An episode of The Avengers had a small town taken hostage (with a nuke) by a general furious over being replaced with a machine.
- In The Wire union leader Frank Sobotka is horrified by the upcoming trend of mechanical automatization rendering stevedore manual labour obsolete.
- A sketch from The Kids in the Hall has this happening with the entirely nonsensical job of standing all day with your arms in a vat of dead fish. At the end, it turns out that the boss who made the call to replace all the workers with machines is himself secretly a robot.
- In the Parks and Recreation episode "Doppelgangers", the Pawnee Parks Department is merged with the Eagleton Parks Department. Tom's counterpart, "Eric", turns out to be a computer program called Eagleton Reservation Information Center. In order to save his job, Tom takes advantage of Leslie not knowing that E.R.I.C. is nonhuman and pulls an Invented Individual scheme to convince her that "Eric" is an out-of-control racist drug-dealer.
- The Clockwork Quartet's song "The Watchmaker's Apprentice" has the titular apprentice being replaced by a machine. In retaliation he rigs a watch to kill one of his master's customers, framing him for manslaughter and ruining his reputation.
- Styx: The song "Mr. Roboto" touches on this.
- Played for laughs in the Lost Dogs' cover version of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)". The Studio Chatter in this version is completely different from the original song: here, band member Derri Daugherty doesn't bother to show up to the session, and he sends the Virtual Derri computer program to record for him. As the song progresses, the other band members get fed up and leave, one by one, each activating their virtual counterparts as they go. By the song's end, the computer programs are the only ones in the studio, and they plan to take over the entire music industry.
Virtual Terry: This will be great. Recording without humans. [...]
Virtual Mike: Hey, guys, how many musicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Virtual Gene: How many?
Virtual Mike: All of them. Because they are now unemployed. And they need a job. Get it?
- Mentioned in Bad Religion's "Punk Rock Song":
Like workers in a factory, we do our share
But there's so many other fucking robots out there.
- Dead Kennedys' "Soup Is Good Food", as a vicious rant about unemployment, naturally cites this trope.
We're sorry, but you're no longer needed
Or wanted, or even cared about here
Machines can do a better job than you
And this is what you get for asking questions
The unions agree, sacrifices must be made
Computers never go on strike
To save the working man
You got to put him out to pasture
Looks like we'll have to let you go
Doesn't it feel fulfilling to know
That you, the human being, are now obsolete
And there's nothing in hell we'll let you do about it?
- Daniel Amos's "Incredible Shrinking Man", from Vox Humana, includes the lyrics:
Machines remind you
that you can be replaced
- This◊ Hi and Lois strip.
- What's New? with Phil and Dixie. In Dragon magazine #63 (July 1982) the strip had a robot Phil that was designed to replace the real Phil Foglio on the staff. Phil managed to defeat the robot by shorting him out with water, but then a robot Dixie appeared... Read it here.
- This Dilbert strip. The comic also has a robot character that frequently threatens its co-workers with this possibility.
- Averted in Warhammer 40K... not that it makes human lives any better. We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future is in full effect, with some of the most advanced weapons in the galaxy reloaded by slaves on treadmills. This is for several reasons: The last time humanity meddled with AI, the Iron Men rebelled and nearly won, humanity reches populations in the billions for a single city, and because general life expectancy is very short. Thankfully, the Imperium has a way to reconcile repetitive or dangerous tasks with automation: lobotomizing people and grafting cybernetics so as to produce servitors, who are used in everything from heavy lifting to suppressive fire to co-piloting ships to operating elevators.
- In Elmer Rice's play The Adding Machine, white-collar slave Mr. Zero, hoping for a raise or promotion after twenty-five years of employment, is instead replaced by a machine that will do his job more efficiently.
- In Portal 2, when exploring Old Aperture underground, you can see posters on the wall from when Aperture Science started using their own employees as test subjects and started using robots to do the humans' work. One of these posters features an employee (called "Karla the Complainer") complaining about her boss being a robot, and it assures readers that robots work harder than you, can do your job better than you, and are all-around better than you.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a slight variation in the form of job-stealing cyborgs; one of the main anti-aug camps' arguments boils down to "cyborgs have an unfair advantage in the job market". The counter-argument is that cyborgs can do jobs baseline humans couldn't possibly manage (such as the construction of Panchaea, a gigantic geo-engineering facility in the Arctic that extends all the way to the ocean floor). The original Deus Ex also had cyborgs with older augments worried that the nano-tech enhanced protagonist will make them obsolete.
- Team Fortress 2: One of the lines said by the Soldier in the Tin Soldier Halloween outfit:
I am a robot. I am here to take American jobs.
- In the Flash game Manufactoria, the player ends up doing this to themselves by successfully testing robot engineers, who then immediately usurp their job (though due to... reasons, the player is allowed to stick around afterwards).
- Red vs. Blue: 479er is clearly feeling very threatened by Delta, but calms down quickly when she discovers that he can't fly. Also, while not replacing her on the team or driving anyone out of the unit, Tex quickly takes Carolina's spot at the top of the Freelancer leaderboard. How much Carolina knew about Tex's artificial nature is not clear.
- Despair.com mentions this in some of its demotivators:
- Motivation: If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.
- Adaptation: The bad news is robots can do your job now. The good news is we're now hiring robot repair technicians. The worse news is we're working on robot-fixing robots—and we do not anticipate any further good news.
- This is a recurring theme in early Occupy Richie Rich posts, as a consequence of the Crapsack World the Rich family live in.
- Inverted in Warbot In Accounting: the titular warbot is a refrigerator-sized hunk of metal with a single crushing claw, meaning he is stunningly bad at typing, handling delicate objects, etc.
- Meta Inversion: The Comic Strip Robotman became Robotman and Monty, and then finally just Monty when Robotman was written out.
- In the DuckTales episode "Armstrong", the titular robot. He quickly puts Launchpad and most of Scrooge's other employees out of a job... Until he goes crazy and takes over Scrooge's money bin. However, the triplets bring in Launchpad, and Armstrong is stopped.
- The Simpsons:
- Mr. Burns has twice tried to replace all the workers at SNPP with robots. The first time is during a strike and the robots run amok. The second time Burns fires everyone (except Homer) and replace them with robots, which eventually(thanks to Homer)run amok. This time the unemployed and underemployed former SNPP workers come to his rescue, and he rehires them all.
- In another episode, Stu & Marty (the radio DJs) are threatened to be replaced by a wisecracking computer if they don't make good on the promise of an elephant for Bart.
- Implied in the eulogy for Asa Phelps. "He worked at the United Strut and Bracing Works as a molder’s boy, until he was replaced by a molder-matic and died."
- An episode of The Lampies has a robot brought in to do everyone inside the lamps' jobs (including counting down the precise time to light up time and then turning on the lamps). He is soon taken out of commission after he activates the sprinklers and fries himself.
- There's an episode of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi when robots replaced the girls as rock stars. Thankfully, they get their positions back.
- The Futurama episode Obsoletely Fabulous features Bender upset about being replaced by a better robot.
- In an episode of The New Fred & Barney Show, Fred's new robotic butler does such a good job at the quarry that Fred is no longer needed there. However, the robot doesn't need the money he's earning either, so he gives it all back to Fred, much to Fred's delight. Barney then decides to buy a robot to work for him, too, except it's a female robot, and both robots then proceed to elope. Fred and Barney, now broke, have no choice but to keep working at the quarry, disguised as robots to fool their boss (who therefore expects them to work more efficiently than a human...)
- The TaleSpin episode "From Here to Machinery" featured robot pilots putting the regular cargo fliers out of business. The robot was ultimately revealed to have a critical flaw of only ever flying in a straight line, rendering it easy prey for air pirates.
- Subverted in Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles: C.H.A.S. is presented as a hyper-competent Automaton, that can do the job of any trooper better than they can (much to their annoyance). After his Heroic Sacrifice to save Higgens, the impressed company consider him a fellow trooper. it is mentioned that the government decided that robots like C.H.A.S. were not cost-effective.
- In the Regular Show episode "K.I.L.L.I.T. Radio", the titular radio station was gradually taken over by an automated system until only one human employee is left - the station's former top DJ, now reduced to providing maintenance on the machines.
- The Academy Award nominated short Technological Threat is about an office of cartoon dogs where the workers are replaced one by one (including the boss!) by nerdy-looking robots with literal pencil necks. Eventually, only one dog worker is left, who plots to rid the office of the robots.
- In Transformers Animated, some of the citizens of Detroit have this feeling towards the machines created by Isaac Sumdac.
- Stunt Dawgs: In one episode, Fungus orders Whiz Kid to build a stunt robot that steals the Stunt Dawgs' jobs. The stunt robot is so good that Fungus decides to fire the Stunt Scabs except for Whiz Kid, who'll be needed whenever the stunt robot needs repairs.
- Played for Laughs in Littlest Pet Shop (2012): Fisher Biskit, head of the Largest Ever Pet Shop, casually replaces a sleeping janitor with a Monban robot. His daughters then take his example and replace the entire board of directors with more Monbans.
- The House of Mouse episode "House of Genius" has Ludwig Von Drake replacing Mickey and his friends with robotic versions of themselves to increase efficiency (including a Donald robot that speaks coherently). However, the audience decides that they prefer the old workers.
- There's a joke about a guy who's laid off, as his boss tells him they've just bought a new robot that does everything he does, but better. The guy goes home and tells his wife... who goes and buys the same model of robot.
- French comedian Coluche had a skit about being laid off and replaced with a machine.
It does it as well as we did, if not better. Also, the machine doesn't need pay, doesn't need rest, doesn't need vacation, is never ill, and worst of all, doesn't even need a job!
- There is an apocryphal story of a meeting between a UAW (United Auto Workers) boss and an automotive executive. The executive brags about his new welding robots, telling the union boss "They won't pay union dues." The union boss responds with "They won't buy cars, either."
- A common argument against this trope is calling concerns about automation an example of the "Luddite fallacy" which says that even though a machine can do more work than a person, it doesn't mean that the company will employ fewer people—instead, the company may just produce more product for the same number of employees.
"If the Luddite fallacy were true we would all be out of work because productivity has been increasing for two centuries."—Alex Tabarrok, Economist
- Note, however, that this only remains true as long as there is both demand for more products (and demand is finite) and the consumers can actually afford more products - which is unlikely when wages stagnate or even decrease outright, as workers are displaced or shifted to part-time gigs, and increasing amounts of money are concentrated in the hands of the asset owners rather than circulate throughout the economy.
- Ryan Avent of The Economist and others argue that the Luddite Fallacy is no longer relevant in the digital age. According to them, the Digital Revolution is proving far more disruptive to the job market than the two Industrial Revolutions, by replacing not merely physical, but also routine cognitive labor as well, obsoleting the need for the bulk of office and customer service jobs, effectively leaving the need for humans only at those positions where innovative thought is required constantly. See here for links: Ryan Avent of The Economist, Martin Ford, C.G.P. Grey, The Gartner Group, and Jaron Lanier.
- Walt Disney Studios was in financial straits after Sleeping Beauty didn't make its cost back, so Ub Iwerks adapted the xerography process to eliminate hand-inking. This led to the elimination of the Disney inking department.
- When Steven Spielberg started on Jurassic Park, he hired Tippett Studio to provide stop-motion effects for the film. However, Spielberg later saw a test with CGI dinosaurs and was so impressed with how realistic they looked that he decided to use CGI instead of stop-motion. However, Tippett Studio's expertise at animating dinosaurs was still valuable and so a system was created where their stop-motion experience could be applied to the CGI models. Tippett Studio has specialized in CGI ever since.
- Hand-painted movie posters has fallen by the wayside in favor of Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and similar photomanipulation and computer art tools. Savvy artists have simply applied their expertise to the new medium and modified the programs to fit their needs.
- According to a 2013 study, 47% of all jobs in the U.S. are at "high risk" of being automated by 2033.
They took our jobs! (DEY TERK ER JERBS!)