Robots at Work

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Area: History and Social Studies, Science
Grade Level: Middle School, Primary/Elementary School
Topics: AI, Artificial Intelligence, Emotion, fairness, Robots, Technology, Thought experiments
Estimated Time Necessary: 45-60 minutes

Lesson Plan

Thinking through the limits of automatization.
Students can think together about the limits of automatization, the differences between humans and robots, and whether any of these differences might ever be overcome.

Many students, even those who are quite young, are aware of the rapid pace at which technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are developing. This lesson entails an exploration of what the world might look like if all human jobs become automated, or done by robots. Are there jobs that humans can do that a robot will never be able to do?

The lesson begins by asking students a fairly straightforward question: If you could invent a robot to do something for you, what would you want your robot to do? Answers here may range from more specific tasks – e.g., “I would want a robot that could put away my laundry.” – to broader, or more involved ones – e.g., “I would want a robot that could go to school and learn then transfer its knowledge to me.”

Then, students can watch the short (<3 min.) video “The Last Job on Earth: Imagining a Fully Automated World,” linked below. The ensuing discussion can take one of two formats.

(1) Ask students to come up with a question that the video made them wonder about. Then, have students split into small groups, with each group selecting a question to present to the larger group. The class as a whole can then vote on which question to use to guide the large group discussion.

(2) Ask students whether this is a world that they would want to live in, and why.



Discussion Questions

  • If you could invent a robot to do something for you, what would you want your robot to do?
  • Would you want to live in a world that is fully automated? Why or why not?
This lesson plan was contributed by: Erica Bigelow, University of Washington.