The rise of the robots

I met the future a few days ago. He was in a lab at Virginia Tech, 18 inches tall, had a nice smile, and he beat me at soccer. He also never complains; works 24 hours a day; demands no retirement, health benefits or promotions; will never unionize; and doesn’t talk back. When a colleague knocked him down, he did not rush off to HR. He stood back up and returned to work.

And we wonder why, in the midst of a staggering economy, businesses keep handing our jobs over to robots.
   
How many jobs? That’s a sticky question. People in the robot business tell you that their mechanized minions are snapping up mainly the three D’s: jobs that are dull, dirty and dangerous. Like working a factory production line, bomb disposal or public relations for the Salahis.

In the process, the robotophiles argue that newer, better jobs are being created. One survey a few years back pointed out that Japan has far more robots at work than any other country, and their unemployment rate is well under 5 percent. Take that, you greedy humans!

But other economic and tech analysts say, “Cool your diodes. That’s just a Replicant talking point.” They insist that one of the key reasons we are having such a hard time recovering jobs is that so many businesses, eager to save money in these tough times, are automating every task they can. Mail handling, breadmaking, phone answering, traffic control, feeding the dog, spaying the cat: “Hey, we’ve got an app for that!”

So where is Washington in all this? President Obama is strongly pro-robot. Earlier this year he went to Carnegie Mellon to talk up the idea that advanced robots, even if they take jobs in the short term, can make us more globally competitive and create much more work for humans in the long run. It’s a hard case for even his foes in Congress to counter. Arguing against automation makes you look like a fuddy-duddy at best, a Luddite at worst.

But I don’t know. As I watched my little soccer playing pal at that university lab, I kept thinking, is there anything these things can’t do? And what will be left for us? Because it looks like he’s not only ready to take over my Monday through Friday chores, but maybe my weekends, too.

– CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Local

Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…

Television

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

Television

'Full House' might be relaunched with some of…

A new "Full House" might be in the works.

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…

Home

Labor Day essentials

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or barbecuing in the park here are some must-haves for your end-of-summer bash.