They don’t necessarily look like we thought they would, but the robots are already among us. They give us directions when we’re driving. By 2015, Governor Deval Patrick recently announced, they will collect all tolls in Massachusetts. Apple’s personal assistant, Siri, might as well be an early prototype for protocol droids like C-3PO of “Star Wars.” The drones America’s sending into battle could be precursors to the robot army that rises up against humankind.
As robots get smarter and more competent, will we benefit? Robot wars aside, economists, at least, have assumed the answer is yes. The less menial work humans need to do, the more we can focus on the creative and flexible work that humans excel at—jobs that involve talking, listening, selling, inventing, choosing, designing. Most textbook economic models economists learn in school assume that when new-fangled machines drive growth, everyone ultimately benefits.