THE spectre of robots playing an integral part in society has long moved on from science-fiction to a situation where it must be considered a realistic subject for debate. It’s a debate we keep putting off, considering it “futuristic”.

But that future is creeping up on us fast, according to leading expert Dr Ian Pearson, who predicts robots will outnumber humans by 2048. In tandem with his prediction, new research conducted by NOW TV, who commissioned the research to celebrate the return of Westworld on Monday night, revealed two thirds of Scots fear the rise of the machines, not least because of the possible impact on jobs.

Already, we’re used to their presence in manufacturing: spraying cars, packing boxes and loading lorries. But their future CVs could feature a far wider skill-set, including construction, farming, the military, administration, surgery, sales, finance and catering. In education, they might assist teachers in the classroom and do janitorial work, so our children would soon get used to them, a prospect that also worries Scottish parents.

Perhaps we are being overly pessimistic. After all, robots can carry out jobs that are dull, dirty or dangerous. They could increase output and national wealth. And, while mass manufacturing would be done by machines, more craft-based, idiosyncratic production by humans might prosper.

Still, the prospect of mass unemployment remains real. Increased wealth produced by robots might finance a universal basic income (particularly if companies are taxed on robot use, as suggested by Bill Gates). But, while “robot” comes from the Czech for forced labour, humans are not (yet) cut out for forced leisure. Most need to work, to be productive.

Robots are about to become a serious social and industrial issue, and this isn’t something we can leave to scientists. It’s not scientists’ job to run the country. It’s the job of government and, here in Scotland as much as in any other country, we have to begin planning for this development. That means considering questions of retraining, redundancy legislation, taxation (where we have the power), welfare provisions, even rewards for “voluntary” work.

It will also require thinking out of the box at which, for now, we have the advantage over the robots.