Fix Oregon's budget before the job-stealing robots arrive: Editorial Agenda 2017

Fix Oregon's budget before the job-stealing robots arrive: Editorial Agenda 2017

As riveting as Steve Brown's speech on the future of robotics was, you can't blame anyone attending the annual Oregon Leadership Summit on Monday for feeling anxious by the time he finished.

In roughly half an hour, he laid out the technological advancements that have quickly enabled the development of robots capable of mimicking human activities and how that could revolutionize - or decimate - the job market. Already, robots are stocking warehouses, flipping burgers, sowing fields of barley, laying bricks, weeding gardens, steering semi-tractor trailers down freeways and even dropping life preservers for water rescues. A future where robots can displace people in performing these tasks isn't so distant, warned Brown, a former futurist for Intel who now speaks on the intersection of technology, business and social trends.

His speech offered both a fascinating and fearsome glimpse of how dramatically robots are poised to reshape our lives. The state's next steps and strategies will determine where on that spectrum Oregonians' view of the emerging technology will land.

One thing is clear: the presentation lends new urgency to the imperative that Oregon's elected leaders tackle the state's long-standing budget woes. Unless the state addresses its skyrocketing spending and its volatile revenue stream, Oregon will never be able to make the investments in education, job training and social services needed to give Oregonians a fighting chance in a technology-driven future. With the nation's third-worst graduation rate and 10,000 high-school dropouts a year, Oregon won't even be in the game.

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