The Robots Are Coming

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How Technological Breakthroughs Will Transform Everyday Life

From the cotton gin and the steam engine to electricity and the transistor, new technologies have been revolutionizing the world for centuries, transforming life and labor and enabling an extraordinary flourishing of human development. Now some argue that advances in automation and artificial intelligence are causing us to take yet another world-historical leap into the unknown.

But is that really the case? Will the rise of the robots threaten our jobs, our purpose, our very self-definition as humans?

Something is clearly happening here, but we don’t know what it means. And by the time we do, authors and editors might well have been replaced by algorithms along with everybody else. Until then, we offer these dispatches from the frontlines of the robotics revolution.

Robots have the potential to greatly improve the quality of our lives at home, at work, and at play. Customized robots working alongside people will create new jobs, improve the quality of existing jobs, and give people more time to focus on what they find interesting, important, and exciting. Commuting to work in driverless cars will allow people to read, reply to e-mails, watch videos, and even nap. After dropping off one passenger, a driverless car will pick up its next rider, coordinating with the other self-driving cars in a system designed to minimize traffic and wait times—and all the while driving more safely and efficiently than humans.

Yet the objective of robotics is not to replace humans by mechanizing and automating tasks; it is to find ways for machines to assist and collaborate with humans more effectively. Robots are better than humans at crunching numbers, lifting heavy objects, and, in certain contexts, moving with precision. Humans are better than robots at abstraction, generalization, and creative thinking, thanks to their ability to reason, draw from prior experience, and imagine. By working together, robots and humans can augment and complement each other’s skills.

The Robots Are Coming

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