Robotics has reached a basic level of intelligence, and many of these advances remain in the realm of academia and specialized applications. While robots still play a fairly minor role in everyday lives, using robotics on a much wider scale is becoming economically viable.

But the actual adoption of robotic intelligence is hampered by a public distrust of artificial intelligence perpetuated in popular culture — a barrier that AI must surmount as it becomes increasingly visible.

Ethical and Legal Implications

Thanks to books, movies, and TV shows like “I, Robot,” “Blade Runner,” and “Terminator,” people across the world have embraced a general “AI Anxiety.” It’s true that as robots become more prominent, they will continue to raise ethical and legal questions. Some forms of robotics that disrupt the status quo will undoubtedly incite serious backlash.

Currently, new technology outpaces the legal framework and public opinion by a large margin, and this gap will only grow as the exponential effects of technology continue to drive increased automation. Historically, companies have simply skirted the law and attempted to swing public opinion in order to force legislative change.

Strong-arming the legal establishment is less than ideal, but no one has presented a particularly compelling solution. This quandary is likely to remain for the foreseeable future, as illustrated by self-driving cars already hitting public roads. Tesla updated its cars recently to allow a limited form of autopilot meant for use only on highways. Shortly after its release, videos appeared online of consumers using the feature on winding roads, in less-than-ideal conditions, and ending up in dangerous situations as a result.

Enhanced consumer education and regulation will mitigate these problems to some extent, but legal questions remain. Our legal system and processes are all constructed to serve the central purpose of accountability, but think about an autonomous trading algorithm that eventually goes rogue and crashes a market: Who is to be held accountable? A rogue trader can be sent to prison, but a rogue algorithm can’t.

If history has taught us anything, however, it is that technological progress has never been stopped by mere regulation or negative public opinion. At best, it can be slowed, but robotics is certainly here to stay. If people allow it to grow, then advancements in artificial intelligence will assume the tasks that don’t require human contributions — freeing up mankind to assume more intriguing challenges.

A New Wave of Productivity

Software-level robotics has created a whole new level of productivity as technology giants like Google open source their algorithms. With algorithms like the ones provided by TensorFlow, companies can build natural language-processing systems or sort through important data sets that are difficult for humans to discern.

Many systems — like predictive systems and virtual agents — have established their supremacy over their human counterparts at multiple complex tasks, although they’re a long way from being considered true artificial intelligence. Currently, companies work off human-augmented artificial intelligence systems, allowing people to review and make the final decisions.

Predictive systems, for example, extract meaning from different forms of data, which allow mechanics to make educated decisions about broken-down cars. Doctors can use automation capabilities to look up complex medical information and rank treatment options on the basis of their estimated efficacies. Daimler Trucks North America is building autonomous trucks designed to assist truck drivers and drastically reduce road accidents caused by distraction and drowsiness.

While plans are already in place to automate these processes and eventually remove the human element completely, workers shouldn’t fear for their job security or a complete robotic takeover. There’s a future in a new Industrial Revolution for everyone.

Advanced Automation and the Machine

Cognitive technologies are just climbing the curve of maturity and have to accomplish a lot more before citizens will realize their true benefits. As of now, software robotics are pretty adept in traditional automation tasks, but they stand to eventually become completely autonomous and take over multiple new business processes.

Sensors (like infrared and radar) can give robots capabilities humans don’t have, such as seeing in the dark and looking through walls. Sensors are becoming more precise and their prices continue to drop, which makes these advanced capabilities cheaper than ever to incorporate into AI. Robots, like those that power lights-out warehouses, don’t require breaks, don’t have to work in shifts, and don’t need dedicated air conditioning, all factors that create significant cost savings and ease the amount of physical labor humans have to do.

The advent of AI has also been termed the “second age of machines.” While the Industrial Revolution redefined desired skill sets, created new jobs, and engineered a new perception of “work,” this second age of machines will also redefine the way we perceive jobs and skills. We need only to stop fearing them.