Smash the robots!
We humans have an anxious relationship with robots. Sometimes we fondly portray them as dippy and friendly characters (see Star Wars), but recently the news and tech sites have been pushing a more alarming message: the robots are taking our jobs!
I use the term 'robots' very loosely here, to mean anything from MIT's sinister four-legged creature that can jump fences to the algorithms that write and publish sports reports for the newspapers with no human intervention.
Every day, a new article appears describing how everybody from doctors to call centre staff are at risk from automation. And it's clear that some professions are already feeling the pinch: the recent trouble in Paris saw Uber taxis stoned and even set on fire. Uber is not simply posing a challenge to traditional cabbies by increasing the number of taxis on the road, but it also works thanks to software which improves response times, alters prices according to demand, and operates a review system similar to Amazon.
But the neo-Luddite idea of smashing the robots isn't the only possible response to automation. Some observers recommend more pragmatic approaches. Tyler Cowen, an economics professor and blogger, suggests that we should be learning to work alongside the robots, and that we should be learning how to learn.
"There are two things people need to learn how to do to be employable at a decent wage" Cowen says. "First, learn some skills which complement the computer rather than compete against it. Some of these are technical skills, but a lot of them will be soft skills, like marketing, persuasion and management that computers won’t be able to do any time soon.
But the second skill, and this is a tough one, is to be very good at teaching yourself new things._"
That second skill - knowing how to learn - is difficult because our education system doesn't always encourage it. Schools are geared to deliver regimented curriculums, set lesson times and certificates. They often fail to teach curiosity, exploration, creative speculation and the other more open routes to knowledge.
This is where online learning has a vital role. It allows learners to identify their own wants, then go out and teach themselves what they need. It offers the flexibility to study at any time of the day or night, to pick and choose from topics, to skim and skip the superfluous bits in any course and to recap without feeling foolish.
Millions of people have taken up this challenge and have taught themselves to work alongside the robots. Some learn to code online, others to analyse chemicals, understand health and safety or use a spreadsheet for accounting. The numbers of people schooling themselves suggest that Professor Cowen is wrong about one thing: that it's "tough" to teach yourself.
As autumn approaches, many people's thoughts turn to improving themselves through education. How will you choose to work with the robots?