By Chris Adams

Friend or foe?

For workers in the U.S. economy, that’s the question that might be asked when it comes to major strides being made in robots and robotic technology.

From humanoid robots for social, safety and caregiving purposes; to agricultural robots that can pick apples; to autonomous vehicles that can safely drive passengers down the road at high speeds, robots in all their forms are swiftly remaking society.

In a National Press Foundation video, two experts talked about the technology behind robotic technology and the impact it could have on the economy. From the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, mechanical engineering professor Gregory Chirikjian shed light on the state of technology.

From The Wall Street Journal, economics editor Sudeep Reddy talked about disruptions to the economy that will inevitably result from new technologies that master the kinds of tasks that only humans once could. (Reddy is a former NPF award winner, as well as a former NPF Paul Miller fellow.) But Reddy also emphasized that with disruption comes progress – and he noted how waves of technology improvements remade vast sectors of the agricultural and industrial economy.

Robots come in many forms, from humanoid devices with facial features to those that can climb stairs and shake hands with humans. They are also becoming increasingly skilled at performing the tasks that will make them valuable for the kind of work that could displace human labor, such as picking apples.

Some potential resources for journalists covering the issue:

  • A Brookings Institution overview of robots and their potential impact on the labor market.
  • A study from the Boston Consulting Group on “The Rise of Robotics,” detailing the potential growth in different categories of robots and robotics.
  • A study from two Oxford University researchers, who detail the potential for 702 different jobs classes to see human labor lose out to automated labor.
  • The National Robotics Initiative, a component of the National Science Foundation that funds basic research. (Chirikjian was previously a program manager in the initiative.)