Ever since Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, it’s been hard to imagine a future without robots. From the cold-blooded killing machines of the Terminator films, to the married-couple bickering of C-3PO and R2-D2, they’ve appeared as our enemies, our servants and often our rivals.
Now the real-life robot revolution is beginning – and it’s already causing the first stirrings of panic. In policy circles, the new must-have book is Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s The Second Machine Age. It argues that artificial intelligence is going to cause huge disruption, as a host of everyday functions – driving ourselves to work, doing the shopping, sorting through spreadsheets, even treating cancer patients – get annexed by machines.
As my colleague Jeremy Warner pointed out, the economic consequences will be huge. In one study, academics estimated that 47 per cent of US jobs are vulnerable to automation. In
, the industrial giants that build the world’s iPhones and Xboxes are investing heavily in robot workers on the principle that their cost is already comparable with that of flesh-and-blood humans, and will soon be far lower. And Google is snapping up robotics firms as if on a billion-dollar trolley dash. China
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