"Rogue One," the latest in the Star Wars franchise, has had mixed reviews but features one undisputed star: K-2SO, a gangly robot with the best lines. Movies of the distant future always tap into current anxieties, and the latest alarm is that the robots are coming. Droids may not conquer the world, but they will take over its work — white collar as well as blue collar. Could these filmmakers know something we don't?

Previous scares, such as when Time magazine reported on "the automation jobless" in the early 1960s, were just that. But many technology gurus insist that this time is different as artificial intelligence (AI) comes of age. Amazon has recently made its first commercial delivery by drone to a customer near Cambridge, England. It is also trying out a grocery store in Seattle that does away with the hassle of checkout lines. Several American states now permit the operation and testing of "autonomous vehicles."

These applications of technology reflect extraordinary advances in AI. Cloud robotics liberate machines from a standalone existence as they share data with one another. Machine intelligence is burgeoning as "deep learning" allows computers to form associations and to predict appropriate responses by processing huge volumes of data.