The robots are coming! The robots are coming!

A robot developed by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology opens a refrigerator door in a presentation on the first day of the CeBIT 2012 technology trade fair on March 6, 2012.

Kai Ryssdal: Here we are in what pretty much everyone agrees is a jobless recovery. What pretty much nobody in Washington agrees on is what to do about it. President Obama's jobs bill was blocked in the Senate. Republicans are offering their own plan. It's enough to make you wish there was some automated way to decide it. Robots, maybe.

Commenatator Farhad Manjoo says prepare for the rise of the machines.


Farhad Manjoo: A few months ago I came face to face with my nemesis: software that can write news stories. Right now, the software -- made by a firm called Automated Insights -- is quite rudimentary. It can only write sports stories, and only stories involving lots of data. The software scans through all the stats from a game, and then looks at a huge database of phrases to come up with the perfect words to match the numbers.

The end result is a narrative that sounds a bit rote: J.J. Hardy got his 30th home run of the season and Robert Andino smacked a game-winning single in the ninth as the Red Sox fell to Baltimore, 4-3. But it's still a perfectly serviceable -- and as computers get faster, the robot's work will keep improving. I'm always on the lookout for the next great disruptive invention. Now I've found one that could put me out of work. People have been fretting about machines taking over human jobs ever since the days of the Luddites.

Economists scoff at this idea. Technology sometimes replaces workers in the short run, but in the long run it spurs economic growth -- and economic growth improves prospects for workers across a range of industries. But this time could be different. Artificial intelligence machines are getting so good, so fast, that they're poised to replace human workers across a wide range of industries. Ironically, it's high-skilled work that's most vulnerable to automation. That's because low-wage workers usually do physical jobs that robots can't yet do very well.

In my research, I found many machines that will soon barge into areas of the economy that we'd never suspected possible. They'll be diagnosing your diseases, dispensing your medicine, handling your lawsuits, and they'll be making fundamental discoveries in science. So far, most economists aren't taking these worries very seriously; the idea that computers might significantly disrupt human labor markets is considered to be on the fringes. But it shouldn't be. The robots are coming. We can't defeat them, but maybe we can find a way to coexist.


Robot: Farhad Manjoo covers technology for Slate. Take a minute to send us your thoughts -- write to us.

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