Not often do you hear a "Newsnight" presenter using an arcane mathematical term, but last week was an exception. The culprit was David Grossman, who made an excellent film for "Newsnight" about the threat to employment from advanced robotics. In the course of this, he made the standard pilgrimage to MIT to interview Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who have made much of the running in this area with a number of books, of which the most recent is "The Second Machine Age." Their argument, said Grossman, was that our society has reached an "inflection point," a concept beloved of those who studied differential calculus in their youth, but probably unfamiliar to the average viewer.

Still, that's what Wikipedia is for. A point of inflection, it explains, is a point on a curve at which the curvature or concavity changes sign from plus to minus (or vice versa). Since this sounds like a smaller deal than the wholesale upheaval prophesied by Brynjolfsson and McAfee, Grossman might have got more mileage out of "tipping point," which, though different to inflection, seems to me to get closer to the nub of the question.

In their book, Brynjolfsson and McAfee maintain that the combination of massive computing power, comprehensive networking, machine learning, digital mapping and the "Internet of things" is bringing about a full-blown industrial revolution on the same scale as the transformations brought about by steam power and electricity. But whereas those earlier revolutions supplanted human (and horse) muscle, the new one will supplant much human cognition, in that work that involved employing people to do information-processing tasks will ultimately be done by computers. The implication is that even those in many white-collar occupations may find themselves unemployable.