In the Age of Robots



Say hello to the future. And, probably, goodbye to your job. The robots aren’t coming. They’re here.

When the police send a robot to blow up that mass shooter in Dallas… When drones fight America’s battles abroad and spy on us at home… When the Washington Post uses robots to cover the Olympics… you know times have changed. And I’m not sure the change is for the better.

Hrobotow do you sustain an economy in which human workers are replaced by automation? Robots don’t buy cars. Robots don’t go out to dinner, watch ball games, attend rock concerts, play video games, buy smart phones…

And (I’m talking to you Jeff Bozos) robots don’t read newspapers. Or buy the goods advertised in newspapers.

Robots don’t need anything that keeps money circulating in a consumer society like America’s.

Of course someone has to build, program and maintain the robots. Human hands keep them in good repair and human eyes oversee their processes.

But you know those jobs will be pitifully few compared with the millions lost to automation. And you know those robots are likely to be made abroad. Americans don’t make stuff any more.

The vast majority of American jobs are either the egghead type, which require advanced degrees, or the kind you get at Macdonald’s, Costco or Walmart.

Americans generally keep those multitudinous dollar bills circulating by waiting on one another, selling stuff (probably made abroad), caring for the sick and injured, or performing some other service. Productive endeavors like farming, fishing and manufacturing are dwindling as globalization takes over.

And no, Donald Trump can’t fix that – alone or with his team of big shot businessmen. There is no magic wand for him to wave.

To survive in the age of automation, America must hope that “the next big thing” keeps coming, that homegrown entrepreneurs keep brainstorming innovations ahead of the rest of the world. Innovations like the Internet.

The most effective thing the new President – and Congress – could do is to encourage research and development, promote higher education and stimulate experimentation.

Hillary is betting on green energy. And that could be the answer – if America develops a way to produce cheap, abundant alternative energy ahead of countries like China (which is eagerly pursuing that goal).

The dumbest thing in the world would be to try and revive the demand for coal (as Trump promises to do).

Which path we take depends on November’s election.

Click for the Post’s robotic reporters

More on green energy

The next big thing?