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Automation reshapes national political debate

A robot we could get behind: an automated lawn mower. Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Even before the technologies of the future come to fruition, they're igniting ethical, economic and political debates at the Capitol and around the country. A quick look at the debates ahead:

Universal basic income: This would provide a guaranteed cash benefit to the millions who could be put out of work by automation. "Silicon Valley is in the midst of a love affair with it, arguing that when robots come to take all of our jobs, we’re going to need stronger redistributive policies to help keep families afloat," Annie Lowrey, who has a book on the subject coming July 10, wrote in New York magazine.

Retooling education for a lifetime of job change: "[W]e need to be much more serious about using every tool we have — tax incentives, Pell grants, community colleges — to create the conditions for every American to be constantly upgrading skills and for every company to keep training its workers," N.Y. Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote in March. "That will matter whether the challenge is China or robots."

Entitlements when people live to 100: "Financial innovation has not kept up with life expectancy," the Financial Times warned in an article with the provocative title, "Can you afford to live to 100?"

Drones, driverless and robot ethics: The biggest difficulty in self-driving cars is not batteries, fearful drivers, or expensive sensors. It's the modern version of what ethicists have called the "trolley problem" — a debate over who should die and who should be saved when an autonomous vehicle's algorithms end up with such a horrible choice. Go deeper.

As you saw with the Mark Zuckerberg hearings, many lawmakers are clueless about technology. Can you imagine them sensibly creating in-the-sky regs for drones? 

Be smart: The economic discontent that drove the Trump vote in 2016 could be more inflamed by 2020, when fears about the future could be becoming reality.