Concern about Robots taking our jobs (1931)

RobotLightI was surprised to read, when searching The British Newspaper Archive that Traffic Lights, when they first appeared on our roads, were also known as Robots. In a way they are, I suppose, early robots, unable to physically move (fortunately), but intelligently controlling the flow of traffic, and even pedestrians. Here are two extracts from 1930s newspapers.
In the first we can read of concerns about robots taking jobs, a subject which is perhaps of much greater concern today.
Lincolnshire Echo: Wednesday 2nd December 1931
It is time, perhaps, for motorists and others to settle down to the fact that the automatic traffic signals are in Lincoln to stay, and, therefore, that complaints to the newspapers are useless. Some of us may hold to our opinion that a city like Lincoln, being unlike, say, New York, with its right-angle crossings and a steady, heavy, even flow of traffic north, south, east, and west, is not the place best suited to the automatic method of control. We may, too, question the wisdom and the economy of substituting expensive mechanical controls for intelligent traffic controllers when the men so displaced probably become unemployed…
The following 1934 newspaper, contains an interesting poem written by “T.W.F.”
The Yorkshire Evening Post: Saturday, 10th February, 1934


The monster blinked. You cursed and stopped.
It fixed you with its bloodshot eye,
While you, resigned, just gave a sigh. Useless to hoot.
Efficient brute!

Once more it blinked, and changed from red,
To tantalising, amber hue,
Then gloatingly smiled down at you,
And cried, “Not yet!
Ready. Get set!”

Another blink. No monster, but
A green-eyed goddess waves you on,
And in a flash you car has gone.
The goddess then
Just blinked again.

British Pathe News on YouTube has two great little clips – Traffic Lights – Robot System Piccadilly Circus (1937) and Traffic Lights For London Pedestrians (1935) where I must quote from the voice over – “The new robot, with the mind of King Canute, that really does stem the tide.”


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