They’re software bots that are built with code to carry out specific, useful tasks automatically. You can see them in their simplest form sending you spammy tweets on Twitter.
You probably have little use for spamming people on Twitter. Something like this may be more useful:
“Find the person responsible for partnerships at each of the Fortune 1000 and have them email me if they’re open to trying our service.”
Currently, the above request falls safely within the requirements of human touch. Not for long.
In 3 years, a digital robot will be able to take and execute this order thanks to improvements in structured data on the web and natural language processing. The complexity, accuracy, and “humaness” of their execution will only improve. Like any new tech adoption, it will cost some people jobs and it will create new jobs for others.
The robots are coming, will they dream of electric sheep?