The Robot Economy Is Here

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And I, for one, welcome my metal alloy colleagues:

Hyoun Park, an analyst at the Boston-based technology research firm Aberdeen Group, agrees that there's nothing to fear from robots but fear itself. "The current state of robotics is less suited to replacing employees in a downturn," he claims, "and more suited to the cliché of doing more with less." Not everyone believes the coming nuts-and-bolts workforce is completely benign. Entrepreneur Marshall Brain--that's his real name--says robots will become widely available by 2030 and could eventually take nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. "We've been very busy creating the second intelligent species," he says.

Brain, who sold his website HowStuffWorks to the Discovery Channel for $250 million in 2007, suggests that robots are a threat to employees at all levels on the corporate totem pole. Even higher-level thinking--the very quality that many managers say separates them from their staff and from artificial intelligence--can be broken down into easily replicated formulas. "Management is one area where a dispassionate robot that's able to disperse tasks and evaluate employee performance in a perfectly rational way might do a better job than a human," he says.

But this, I don't like:

The office robot is closing in on upper management-level skills with surprising speed. At Georgia Tech, research engineer Alan Wagner has been collaborating with professor Ronald Arkin on cracking the code of robot intelligence. According to Wagner, their research aims "to build robots that can not only interact with humans but are also capable of representing, reasoning, and developing relationships with others." They developed an algorithm that, they claim, allows robots, just like CEOs, "to look at a situation and determine whether [it] requires deception, providing false information, to benefit itself." Basically, they taught robots how to lie.

Read the full story at Bloomberg Businessweek.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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